11 Biggest Winners and Losers of Summer TV: From ‘True Detective’ to Trump Jokes

TheWrap coronates 5 who ruled and 6 who suffered

As another summer draws to a close and the kiddies head from the pool to the school, now seems as appropriate a time as any to crown the winners and shame the losers from this brief TV season. Below are TheWrap‘s 11 standouts — good and bad, five winners and six losers — in our seasonal look-back. If we missed anything or you think we called it wrong, let us hear it in the comments section.

NBC’s Got Scheduling Talent: Winner
NBC made some key scheduling moves this summer that have really paid off for the reigning fall, full-year and summer season ratings champion: The network moved “American Ninja Warrior” to 8 p.m. in an effort to target co-viewing and a familial environment, turning the pedestrian reality competition into one of summer’s top shows.

IT did the opposite with “Hollywood Game Night,” moving the former self-starter behind behemoth “America’s Got Talent,” which has also resulted in strong increases year over year.

Of course, there were shows to be sacrificed in the process, and we won’t even mention “Welcome to Sweden” (OK, not after that mention), but NBC looks likely to finish first again in the key 18-49 demographic over these hot months. Enjoy it while it lasts, NBC, because CBS and Super Bowl 50 are coming for your crown this fall.

“0 Kids and Counting,” TLC: Loser
It’s rarely a good summer when you have to cancel your highest-rated series due to a molestation scandal. TLC took its sweet time considering the future of “19 Kids and Counting,” eventually burying the show’s cancellation on Emmy nominations Thursday.

Oh, and then there’s the matter of the $19 million that writing down the show cost parent Discovery Communications. We’d say that qualifies for the undesirable half of this list.

Wide World of ABC’s Sports Programming: Winner
When one thinks strong sports programming, they generally don’t think ABC. But the Disney-owned broadcast channel made a splash early on this summer. The six-game NBA Finals finished as the highest-rated ever on ABC, which has hosted the championship series since the 2002-2003 season.

But ABC wasn’t done. It also pulled the ESPY Awards from ESPN, scoring record ratings there too. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Caitlyn Jenner made her first public appearance at the awards show since announcing her transition. The former Olympic champion was honored with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.


“Knock Knock.” “Who’s There?” “Bad Reality Programming,” Fox: Loser
Oh, Fox. It might be time to just throw in the towel on that whole unscripted genre. Forgetting “Utopia” — arguably the biggest reality TV bomb in the past year — and just focusing on the summer doesn’t exactly raise the group’s value either.

“Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” reminded viewers why the show was canceled years ago, the hokey “Boom” never quite blew up — at least not in a good way — and “Knock Knock Live” was a disaster in the same vein as last year’s “Riot.”

Don’t remember “Riot”? (We’ll leave you out of this, “I Wanna Marry Harry.”) That’s OK, nobody does. The silly stage-tilting improv show’s four-episode run actually doubled “Knock Knock Live’s” pathetic two airings, so that’s how good Ryan Seacrest’s summer offering went. At least Fox and Seacrest still have “American Idol” — for just one more season, that is. Yikes, slate.

HBO: Winner, With One Glaring Exception …
HBO outdid itself this summer when it comes to Emmy nominations. The pay-TV channel once-again topped the charts with 126 total Emmy noms, tacking an additional 27 nods on to last year’s tally. “Game of Thrones” was the top draw again, with 24 nominations besting 2014’s 19.

Plus, in a summer with no Stephen Colbert and almost half sans Jon Stewart, John Oliver has been getting some much-deserved attention for the brilliant “Last Week Tonight,” which pinpoints and attacks a core social issue for an entire episode like no other late-night show can or will. Of course, not all of HBO’s summer programming was a winner, at least not …

… “True Detective” Season 2: Loser
So, ah, what exactly happened here, Nic Pizzolatto? “True Detective” Season 1 was terrific, so long as we agree to ignore the semi-goofy maze/chase/fight stuff towards the end. The show had capped the McConaissance and was the latest reminder that Woody Harrelson can, indeed, act.

Naturally, one of the biggest stories in-between the anthology series’ runs was who could possibly be cast in the follow-up season. The answers were pretty good, if not a bit odd: Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work anywhere near as well as Season 1. Per metacritic, Season 1 of “True Detective” scored an 87 Metascore and a 9.2 User Score. Season 2 dropped to a 61 and 6.4, respectively. And by the end of the sophomore-slumping run, “True Detective’s” ratings dropped 22 percent in viewers from the first season finale.

Comedy Central
Comedy Central

Comedy Departing, Comedy Central: Loser
This one is easy. Just about a week-and-a-half before Jon Stewart’s final “Daily Show,” TheWrap exclusively reported that “Key & Peele” would end their show after this season. Both departures are big blows to the cable channel that is perhaps best-on-TV for identifying and curating new talent. It’ll have an uphill battle replenishing these losses, however.

While “The Daily Show” will go on with Trevor Noah, Stewart was the default face of the comedy network, which is seeing increased competition on cable and from over-the-top offerings. Comedy Central may have been better equipped to compensate had they not already lost Stephen Colbert to CBS in December.

Plus, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele were becoming a new generation of huge, homegrown network stars, alongside Amy Schumer. With the draw of feature comedies pulling at her, who knows where Comedy Central will find itself next summer from a roster standpoint.

Colbert Still “Report-ing” for Duty, Stephen Colbert: Winner
Speaking of Colbert, the guy had a heck of a summer for someone who doesn’t have a TV show — or really any other regular platform.

Whether he was filling in as host of a public access TV show in Michigan, sipping coffee on Crackle with Seinfeld, or mimicking Donald Trump, Colbert’s been hard at work during his time off. Read all about how Colbert has stayed relevant since “The Colbert Report” here.

Or if you don’t feel like clicking links, just take our word for it: The guy is just a winner, winter, spring, summer or fall.

The Big Bust Theory, CBS: Loser
CBS doesn’t have many bad seasons, but this summer is one that Les Moonves and co. wouldn’t mind forgetting. Until the aforementioned Colbert launches his “Late Show” late next month, the channel has been operating without a real lead-in for relative newbie James Corden since Letterman retired in the spring.

It also has been struggling in the primetime ratings, as “Extant” and “Under the Dome” haven’t bounced back from their soft 2014 summer seasons. As a matter of fact, thanks to strong performances from Fox Sports’ Women’s World Cup and MLB All-Star Game, CBS and Fox may end up battling it out for third place in the main demo this summer. That’s not a good look for America’s Most-Watched Network, no matter how it’s spun.

And then there was “The Briefcase.” It’s never a positive when your show is labeled “poverty porn,” and the moniker sticks. Don’t expect this show to return, or ever be even spoken of again in the CBS halls: TheWrap previously explained why here.

Donald Trump

Trump, Trump, Trump It Up! Late-Night Monologues: Winner
There was no shortage of fodder for the late-night TV guys this summer, from the disgusting behavior of Bill Cosby to the social impact of Caitlyn Jenner to the pure buffoonery of Donald Trump. The jokes practically wrote themselves, though don’t tell the hard-working staffs at “The Tonight Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Conan,” “Late Night,” “The Late Late Show” and others that we said that.

Speaking of “Late Night,” let’s highlight Seth Meyers for a cool maneuver he is currently testing out midway through the summer. Meyers moved his monologue to a desk bit, a similar look to how he made his bones at “Saturday Night Live’s” “Weekend Update.” So far, it seems to be working fabulously.

Worldwide Loser in Sports (Personalities/Subscribers), ESPN: Loser
Finally, ESPN was a loser, at least from a public relations standpoint. While the Disney-owned cable channel is clearly still making money hand-over-fist, it is hemorrhaging talent, despite what all these recent press releases are telling us. This summer, the Worldwide Leader in Sports lost Colin Cowherd and Keith Olbermann, directly on the heels of Bill Simmons bouncing in May.

Plus, they’re losing you guys. Year over year, ESPN lost 3.2 million subscribers due to cord-shaving, per a July study. Read more about the state of ESPN here.