The TV Report Card

What programmers learned about comedy, drama, news, sports and reality so far this year, and what that it means for the coming upfront season

Between on-demand viewing, proliferating screens and ever-fragmenting audiences, we’re aware of just how frequently TV gets dissed as a dinosaur medium from a different age. Of course, that’s true enough. But it’s also true that 290 million of us spend billions of minutes each month sitting in front of that TVasaurus, and this time of year, our eyes get misty. Yes, it’s spring, which means that in the weeks and months ahead, TV programmers will pull back the curtain, giving us a peek at what’s to come. In these heady days of anticipation, we get to imagine unexpected wonders.

And we do know it’s also the season of heartbreak. Some drama can be counted on: This year, we have the presidential election, fueled by as much as $5 billion in Super PAC ad spending, which experts say is likely to turn our TV sets into a modern version of the Roman Coliseum. And there are the London Olympics. Inevitably, though, the best dramas will be the ones we never hear about, with brilliant shows canceled before the pilot even airs, or unbelievable programming emerging after wacky focus groups as TV execs shake their head in disbelief, only to watch that program turn into this year’s Swamp People.

And while the decisions that shape the upfront season may seem capricious, they have real impact. Back in 2001, for example, reality programming accounted for just 22.4 percent of programming and peaked at 77.3 percent. Last year, it was up again, as was sports coverage, and — perhaps thanks to the Arab Spring — news programming.

In that spirit of expectation, we asked some of our favorite writers to grade how well drama, comedy, news, sports and reality did last year, as well as make a few predictions about the season to come. Who knows? Maybe if we wish hard enough, this will be the season for Real Housewives of Downton Abbey.

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