This is the week TNT will decide what happens to the show “Men of a Certain Age.” They’re waiting until the Emmy nominations come out, to see how many nominations it gets (Andre Braugher got a nomination last year). To encourage the network to pick it up in spite of its relatively small and very non-young audience, Maureen Ryan and Alan Sepinwall both have posts today arguing the same thing: it deserves a third season because quality is important, and this is the highest-quality show TNT has. From the Variety piece, it seems like the reason the show still has a shot at the network is for that very reason: its supporters are arguing that it has “cachet and long-term potential” and that having a critically-acclaimed series will help the prestige of a network that is mostly known for popular meat-and-potatoes programming.
This is the best show TNT has, and I would be happy to see them jump at any excuse to pick it up again. Whether that particular excuse will work, I don’t know. In theory, a prestige show is the perfect balance to a lineup of money-making but less-prestigous projects. In practice, as has been said many times, a low-rated show has a better chance at a network without a lot of hits. The more hits a network has, the more it expects of every show.
I don’t usually blame promotion for the success or failure of a show, but I do feel like better promotion of Men of a Certain Age could have helped it Not to get a million more 18-49 viewers; the best ad campaign in the world can’t do that. But some networks have a way of making it seem like a potentially great show is on its way – HBO, Showtime and AMC are all good at creating excitement for the arrival of an important series, excitement that becomes part of the narrative surrounding the show (even if the show itself is like The Killing and doesn’t live up to the hype). TNT’s promotion of Certain Age seemed pretty standardized and not really aimed at anyone in particular, which is fine for its usual shows. (TNT, along with USA, is one of the cable networks that looks for hour-long scripted shows that don’t need awards to live.) But this one has no hook; it’s a small, personal show about small, personal things, and it’s a one-hour drama that isn’t particularly melodramatic, always one of the toughest sells in TV. With all that, it’s not an unpopular show, but because of the subject matter, cast and title, isn’t a show with a lot of youth appeal.
A way to counteract all of that might have been to concentrate on building buzz for the show and making it seem like this was an important, personal piece of work – because that’s what it is. But I got the feeling that the network was almost as surprised at the power of the show as some reviewers were. (People who disliked or were indifferent to Ray Romano before often like MOACA, though “even if you hated him before, you’ll love him now!” is not a good selling point for any show.) A network doesn’t have a lot of power to affect the number of viewers a show gets – though TNT undoubtedly could have helped MOACA by not splitting its second season in two, one in winter and one in summer. But creating buzz is, to a large extent, the network’s responsibility; good promotion gets people talking about a good show, and the network can then justify renewing the show because people are talking about it. Instead it’s seemed like critics here and there are talking about the show without much help from the network, and that’s not enough.
Update: One thing I forgot to mention was the question of compatibility with the network’s slate of reruns, something a lot of basic-cable shows and networks run into. (One recent random example: USA is now scrambling to create a slate of single-camera half-hour light comedies, because it bought the rerun rights to Modern Family and wants some compatible original programming by the time that show arrives.) Men of a Certain Age isn’t a great fit with the other original dramas on TNT, but it’s an even worse fit with the reruns – Bones, The Mentalist, Law & Order. (Rizzoli & Isles, starring Angie Harmon, is obviously a good bet to attract people who come to the network for the L&O reruns.) Though its audience is not the same as Everybody Loves Raymond‘s, I could see it being better off on a network that had Everybody Loves Raymond reruns in the mix.