Cable network TNT pinning hopes on "Men"
By James Hibberd
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - TNT might know drama, but does it remember how to launch a hit show?
On Monday night, the network premieres its comedy-drama series "Men of a Certain Age," which follows a trio of fortysomething guys as they navigate friendships, work and romance. Critics are raving about "Men," which marks Ray Romano's return to television in a starring role.
If the show can draw ratings to match its reviews, it won't be a moment too soon. TNT, the once-dominant basic cable brand, is stuck in a midlife crisis of its own.
Despite making a push for a new hit this year by debuting the most new series in the network's history (five), TNT is nearly flat in ratings with 2008, averaging 2.3 million viewers in primetime and a 0.8 rating in the adults 18-49 demographic. Although broadcast television has suffered drastic declines during the past four years and basic cable has enjoyed overall growth, TNT hasn't gone along for the ride -- it's still down 11 percent from its peak, even with modest growth the past couple of years.
Recent months have set some underachieving precedents, with October ranking as TNT's least-watched month since 1995.
Compare those standings to four years ago, when TNT was on top of the basic cable universe, winning quarter after quarter as ad-supported cable's most popular and highest-rated network. TNT's potent combination of sports coverage, second-run movies and second-run crime dramas provided a template for competitors to follow. Its original series "The Closer" was an industry-rocking phenomenon. Although FX's "The Shield" already had proved that a basic cable network can produce a critical hit, "Closer" showed that ad-supported cable channel could draw viewership numbers that were within shouting distance of the larger broadcast figures.
'CLOSER' BUT NO CIGAR
TNT still brags about "Closer" and enjoys taking shots at the Big Four networks, but it has been unable to replicate the procedural drama's success. Continued...