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ABC's 'Better with You': Too Good to Lose, Not Too Late to Save
May 11, 2011  | By Tom Brinkmoeller
 
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By Tom Brinkmoeller

STORY UPDATE, MAY 14: SAD NEWS: According to one of Tom's sources, ABC has cancelled Better with You. Read on for the full story... -- DB

STORY UPDATE, MAY 12, EVENING: Nielsen ratings for the May 11 Better with You showed another healthy jump in viewers: 11 percent over the previous week in total viewers and 25 percent in the much-coveted viewers aged 18-49. The series retained 82 percent of the audience of The Middle, the show that preceded it. That time period, 8:30-9 p.m., puts it against the second half of Fox's American Idol and CBS's Survivor. Better with You kept 91 percent of viewers aged 18-49 from its lead-in and 94 percent of the viewers aged 18-34 who watched The Middle, meaning most defections were among older viewers.

It was the series' best ratings showing since early February. -- TB

--

ABC will announce its 2011-12 prime-time schedule next week, but producers are expected to learn the fates of current shows before the weekend.

In 2007 I was just a viewer-bystander as a wonderful TV series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, disappeared way before it deserved to. I was really bothered by the way NBC abused it, meddled with it and then abandoned it. But individual viewers don't count a lot with networks and my irritation meant nothing.

It was the first time since I stopped writing about television in the '80s that I wished I were doing it again. Critics don't mean much to networks either, but they do have a louder voice. I told myself if something like that ever happened again, I sure hoped I had that louder voice again.

Well, another above-average series looks like it soon may encounter the same callous dismissal, and -- son of a gun -- this time I have access to TV WORTH WATCHING's megaphone...

ABC soon could pull the plug on the most clever comedy to hit television in five years.

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Better with You, which premiered last September, is an exceptionally well-written, excellently cast comedy. It does these two rare-for-network-TV things atop a concept that's as fresh and as polished as the standout series that inspired me to name my TVWW outparcel "Raised on MTM." From my seasoned perspective, it's in the same class as series like Cheers and Taxi and Newhart.

It's too good to lose. And, perhaps, not too late to save it.

I'm not just urging ABC to keep the series. I am telling you that this TV series is worth watching, and if you haven't done so yet, please catch the season finale tonight (Wednesday) at 8:30 ET.

If you don't know the story, here's the premise: Two sisters and their partners interact with the sisters' parents. They all live in New York. The parents (played by Kurt Fuller and Debra Jo Rupp) are retired, married for more than 30 years and like to think they control the reins of the stagecoach that is their daughters and their spousal-like partners.

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Older daughter Maddie (Jennifer Finnegan) is a lawyer who has lived for nine years with boyfriend Ben (Josh Cooke), who manages a New York hotel. They see no reason to marry. Younger daughter Mia (Joanna Garcia) runs a high-tech business and is living with Casey (Jake Lacy), the father of their soon-to-be-born child. They plan to marry before the child is born.

[They'd better hurry. Tonight's season finale takes place in a hospital maternity ward.]

One other note: Casey, the father-to-be, is the only one who doesn't possess the Manhattan-style sophistication of the other five. Think Woody on Cheers, or George on Newhart, and you can see similar comic construction. The magic settles on the series with the writing.

If my brief description of the premise made you think straw, see how the chemistry of cast and production spins it to gold. Watch this clip from the pilot as not only an introduction to the characters, but also as an example of the richness of writing that artfully and entertainingly introduces six new characters in record time. (Click HERE.)

I have watched every episode this first season and have been happy that I did. I have recommended the series to others who have thanked me for doing so. The reason it is in trouble is not its own fault: It runs against American Idol and Survivor . Its task is like trying to pitch to a Yankees team that included Ruth and Gehrig.

An often-invoked network principle is in situations like this is "Nobody can beat those suckers, but some innocent blood must be shed to show how serious we are about losing."

Still, the statistics aren't as lopsided as they might be. And if the savvy strategists in ABC's command center outnumber those demanding sacrifice, we still may get a second season of Better with You. Here's what they should be looking at: Hour-long 8 p.m. shows build viewership levels in the second half hour.

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Yet Better with You holds on to more than 80% of the viewers who watched The Middle, the program that precedes it on ABC. Better with You is averaging 6.6 million total viewers this year -- which is a bunch, when stacked against its reality-show Goliath competitors. (It also beats NBC's offerings, but with that anemic network, it's similar to winning by forfeit because the other team didn't show up.)

Another factor working for it is that Nielsen ratings now include people who watched the show up to seven days after its air date as a DVR recording. Its 6.6 million total viewers jumps 7.4 percent, to 7.2 million, in this measurement. And in the top target demographic, viewers aged 18-49, the viewership increases by 9 percent. Unlike five years ago, when it couldn't save Studio 60, DVR technology now can save a series.

Added momentum may have developed last Wednesday alone, when the show's total-viewer ratings increased by 17 percent over the previous week, and its 18-49 viewers jumped by 7 percent.

The networks are formulating their fall schedules now, but sources say the final lineups haven't been locked in yet. Another bump up in ratings Wednesday night might make the necessary difference.

But think of watching not as a favor to the cast, or the producers, or to me. Chances are good you're going to like what you see -- and you'll be doing YOURSELF a favor.

 

10 Comments

 

jim said:

I'm glad to see this show getting a little love. I think this is the first article I've seen about it since the initial, somewhat tepid, reviews. I probably would have never watched except I was already setting the vcr for "The Middle" and "Modern Family" and it was easier to just record the full 90 minute block. Also, I love Debra Jo Rupp, who was the best thing about "That 70's Show",and it's a hoot watching her play a cynical New Yorker. I hope the show gets renewed. the quality of the writing has certainly been more consistent than "Modern Family" which has coasted for much of this season on the good will it built up with viewers last year.

Comment posted on May 11, 2011 10:41 AM


Erin said:

Hmm...I've watched every episode of "Better with You," but never within 3 days of its original airing. There are just too many other really outstanding comedies out there right now for this good but not great show to stand out. I agree that it is well-cast, and I applaud the show for having a family comedy in which (until tonight's ep) the youngest member is 25. But its weaknesses are rather apparent too. Sometimes the writing is quite clever, but the plots themselves are rather mundane (Joel is cheap, we get it already. How many actual plot lines do we have to suffer through when he shows just how cheap he is?). And how long can the conceit of couples that have been together 30 years/10 years/10 months last? Casey is a goober, but even he should catch on sooner or later.

Do I think ABC should cancel it? No. Like you said, it's good enough to stick around (and I'm not sure they can find a better replacement for the tough time slot). Am I going to lose sleep if they do? Not at all.

Comment posted on May 11, 2011 1:56 PM


BetterwithFans said:

Such a great article about an incredibly wonderful, witty, and sadly, a very underrated show. The author is completely right -- this show is so well written, has some extremely creative and innovative storylines, and is hilarious WITHOUT that "raunch factor" that so many shows these days have. Thank you for writing this!

Comment posted on May 11, 2011 2:44 PM


Tiffany said:

I love TV and have many standards on why I watch a show. I do not watch reality because it does not make good TV. This show has everything. I was irritated when CBS got rid of New Adventures of Old Christine and wrote them many times regarding pulling a show that good. This one is another one that shouldn't be missed. I enjoy the characters and the fun interactions that occur. I love this show and I would really hate to see ABC make a big mistake if they drop this series. Thanks for posting this.

Comment posted on May 11, 2011 2:47 PM


kelly said:

I ADORED "Studio 60" and stopped watching NBC when they canceled the best show I'd seen on network TV in years. That said, I am so excited to hear someone sing the praises of my favorite new show this season! Cheers to you and those who take your advice!

Comment posted on May 11, 2011 2:49 PM


ann said:

Great article- if the network had advertized the show before the beginning of the fall season the ratings would have been through the roof.

It is one of the best written comedies I have seen in years- Hopefully, it be renewed for another season.

Comment posted on May 11, 2011 6:44 PM


Dave said:

That show sucked so hard I did backflips when I saw it got cancelled. Perfect Couples on NBC was 1,000 times better than this trash. At least I still have Chuck for one more season.

Comment posted on May 14, 2011 5:21 PM


Vikram said:

Someone who hates Community and Parks and Rec yet loves Better With You? Now there's the REAL comedy.

Comment posted on May 14, 2011 6:55 PM


Iris said:

Tom, thanks for the glowing review of "Better With You". Glad it's getting a little love.

To help save this show, please join the movement to get it back! Join the 'Save Better With You' page on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/SaveBetterWithYou and sign the petition here: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/betterwithyou. Let's not let this hilarious sitcom go without a fight!

Comment posted on May 16, 2011 5:53 PM


melissa said:

THANK YOU for taking a stand and writing this article. I am so, so sad the show has been canceled. Definitely THE best comedy to come along in a long time, I agree. I so hope another network picks it up. Thank you for using your voice to say how good it is, and thank you too for relaying the ratings. It really feels like a show that's been around for years and is already a known favorite and hit. It's just too bad it only feels that way. Jennifer Finnegan Tweeted a link to a petition somebody started to save it, so here it is. Please sign! http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/betterwithyou/0/2

Comment posted on May 16, 2011 8:05 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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