Who knew that the biggest TV story of 2011 would be a sitcom cast change? The Charlie Sheen meltdown and subsequent public firing from the CBS hit Two And A Half Men, followed by the show’s successful transition with new star Ashton Kutcher and Sheen’s comeback in the new comedy series Anger Management, grabbed the biggest headlines. But it was eventful year, featuring major shakeups in daytime and off-network syndication as well as ushering in new players in original programming and a comeback for comedy.
No other TV area saw more dramatic changes in 2011 than daytime. Soaps’ march toward extinction accelerated with the demise of ABC’s One Life To Live and All My Children. Two other staples of daytime TV, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey and another longtime host Regis Philbin, made their departures. Winfrey’s exit changed the landscape of daytime television, which she had dominated for a quarter of a century. With her gone, two big names threw their hats in the daytime talk show ring this year — former Today co-host-turned-CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, whose job change once again became a media circus, and Queen Latifah. Couric’s Disney-ABC talker launches next fall, Queen Latifah’s Sony TV-produced talk show is targeted for fall 2012.
Closing one chapter, Winfrey and the ABC soaps tried to open another, but the transition proved bumpy for all. On Jan. 1, 2011, Winfrey launched OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. A year and some $300 million in investment by Discovery Communications later, OWN is still struggling to find an audience and outperform the Discovery Health network it replaced. Heavily promoted entries like Mark Burnett’s reality series Your OWN Show, Oprah Presents Master Class and the Rosie O’Donnell talk show have disappointed, and the network has been mulling a more niche approach, catering to African American audiences. Winfrey will make another attempt to salvage her network with Oprah’s Next Chapter, a new weekly primetime show, which premieres on Jan. 1, OWN’s first anniversary.
There will be no next chapter for canceled ABC soaps All My Children and One Life To Live. After a five-month effort to secure financial backers and union agreements, Jeff Kwatinetz’s Prospect Park recently abandoned its plans to continue the daytime dramas online after licensing the shows from ABC in July.
While Prospect Park couldn’t find a business model that would sustain network quality series online, another company, Netflix, made a big bet this year that it can make it work. In the most significant challenge to traditional TV networks to date, the streaming giant last spring outbid the network with deepest pockets, HBO, for the David Fincher-Kevin Spacey drama House Of Cards in a deal that could be worth more than $100 million. Since then, despite the company’s stock price woes stemming from blunders in the core DVD rental/movie and TV shows streaming business like the ill-fated Qwikster spin-off and fee hike, Netflix has been aggressively building a slate of original series. In the past couple of months, it picked up Jenji Kohan’s comedy Orange Is The New Black, Eli Roth’s horror thriller Hemlock Grove and a new season of Arrested Development.