A tough summer in the Northeast is now over. It took a while to warm up, then brought oppressive 100-degree heat and ended with a troubling hurricane. So, maybe mercifully, it's on to fall and the new TV season, which begins in just a few weeks and offers intriguing storylines off the screen.
Will "X Factor" be more hype than hit at Fox? Will CBS's impressive gamble to bring original scripted programming to Saturdays mean networks have overlooked the night too long?
Can NBC find a comedy that excites viewers as much as critics? Can ABC find success in the past with Tim Allen and "Charlie's Angels" coming back and a drama set during Pan Am's glory years?
There won't be a long wait for answers. Those should come after only an episode or two.
Anyway, it's time for September's Leaders & Bleeders:
1) MTV - Awards shows such as the Oscars and Emmys have had mixed performances at best in recent years. Yet, MTV's "Video Music Awards" defies the trend. Sunday's show brought the network's largest audience ever in the target 12-to-34 demo. The event is such a pop-culture locus that ratings weren't the only big bump this year, with Beyoncé choosing the time to reveal her pregnancy. Brand integrations broke new ground and advertisers have already inked deals for next year's show. Oh, and elswehere, "Jersey Shore" shows no signs of slowing down in drama and ratings.
2) INVESTGATION DISCOVERY (ID) - The former back-of-the-portfolio network at Discovery is becoming an increasing company focus. CEO David Zaslav says it's "the biggest engine driving both ratings and advertising gains." By one measure, prime-time ratings are up 64% since September 2010 in the target demo. Distribution is up 22% to 77.6 million homes. Interest in mafia wives and bleeped-up marriages should continue to provide anchor programming as will Paula Zahn.
3) STEVEN TYLER - Aerosmith frontman is set to return as an "American Idol" judge in January. Along with J. Lo, he helped ensure last year that after Simon Cowell's departure, the show still has plenty of runway. Tyler stole the show in a Carrie Underwood duet featuring "Walk This Way" at last spring's country music awards. A new deal has a slew of Aerosmith music coming to iTunes. The band's new album is due next May around the time of the "Idol" finale. That should help drive interest, no?
4) FARMERS INSURANCE GROUP - The 83-year-old company seems to be taking a page out of the Aflac book and spending aggressively in sports to raise its profile. TV spending was up 74% to $62 million in this year's first quarter, according to Kantar. Launched a year ago, its campaign where actor J.K. Simmons (who everyone recognizes, but may not know why) plays a professor teaching agents is giving the brand a face. The company also has a deal to place its name on a new Los Angeles NFL stadium, if it's built.
5) GOLF - Tiger Woods is becoming an afterthought. Phil Mickelson could be way past his prime. How many other players on the PGA Tour can you name? Yet, NBC and CBS have enough confidence in the sport's popularity that they've inked deals with the PGA through 2021. Terms were not disclosed, but the PGA chief indicated increases were significant. For NBC, the deal opens up new synergies with fellow Comcast network Golf Channel.
1) RANDALL STEPHENSON - Despite an ad campaign backing the proposed T-Mobile merger, the AT&T CEO suffered a blow as the Justice Department moved to block the $39 billion transaction. That's unfortunate for networks that could have benefited from a massive campaign introducing a "new AT&T." Also, Stephenson holds an MBA from the University of Oklahoma and could be facing Bummer Sooner situation while deciding whether to put the Longhorn Network on AT&T U-verse, which would help OU's big rival.
2) PEPSI - After Diet Coke topped it to become the country's second-largest soft drink, the brand has amped up marketing efforts and landed the top-line sponsorship in the coming "X Factor." The New York Times reported that will include some neat twists, such as the show's winner starring in a Super Bowl spot and viewers able to choose songs for contestants. But one move shows an embarrassing lack of innovation: placing the Pepsi logo on the cups in front of the judges. Coke's done that for years on "American Idol," so once again Pepsi's playing catch-up.
3) PRESIDENT OBAMA - Republicans may have forced him to shift his major economic address to next Thursday, bringing fears that could steal thunder from the NFL's opening game. But would Obama have consented to the move if his Bears were playing? Turns out, he may be sticking it to Chicago's rival since Green Bay is playing New Orleans. The speech, however, should be over before kick-off. Even so, would Americans really have let a Presidential plan affecting the economy take away from football?
4) THE CONSUMER - With the FCC and Congress taking little action that could prevent local stations being removed in retransmission consent disputes, Mediacom and LIN Media are locked in a stand-off that has multiple stations off the air. Barring a settlement, Mediacom subscribers in Grand Rapids (a top-45 market) could miss the Western Michigan-Michigan game Saturday. Other stations in smaller markets could be out of luck with the U.S. Open.
5) TV HOMES - Americans may be watching more TV, but for the first tim since 1992, the number of TV homes will be lower this season than the year before. Integrating figures from the 2010 Census, TV homes will decline from 115.9 million to 114.7 million, while the percentage of U.S. homes with a TV will fall from 98.9% to 96.7%. Possible reasons are a slowdown in household formation due to the economy (cable companies have said that's costing them subscribers); some younger people willing to get their TV online; and a shake-up due to the 2009 digital transition.