13 TV Winners and Losers of 2015: From Fox’s ‘Empire’ to ABC’s ‘Wicked City’

TheWrap Rewind 2015: Television gets graded on a pass-fail basis

Last Updated: December 22, 2015 @ 9:54 PM

The year 2015 was the best of times for some segments of television, and the worst of times for others.

These 12 months brought us “Empire” (readers: rejoice!), but also “Wicked City” and “Knock Knock Live” (readers: choose between sad-face emoji and poop emoji here.)

TheWrap has identified 13 winners and losers across the TV landscape over the past 12 months. Let us know if you agree or disagree with our selections in the comments section. Without further adieu, scroll below for all the accolades and admonitions.

The Wiz Live

Winner: NBC
NBC has been running the table in TV ratings lately, though it should probably celebrate now, since CBS owns Super Bowl 50. At the moment, NBC is two-tenths of a ratings point ahead of its closest competitor throughout calendar 2015.

Big hits for NBC this year include Super Bowl 49, “SNL 40,” “The Wiz Live,” “The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” “Coat of Many Colors” and “Adele Live in New York City.” Plus, “The Voice” is still going strong and “American Ninja Warrior” had a great summer.

Clearly, live programming is working for Bob Greenblatt and company — but the success of “Blindspot” also proves that the broadcast network is no one-trick pony.

State of ESPN

Loser: ESPN
It just wasn’t your year, ESPN. While the Disney-owned cable channel is clearly still making money hand-over-fist, it is hemorrhaging talent, brands and subscribers. This year, the Worldwide Leader in Sports lost Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd and Keith Olbermann. It also gave up on Grantland, and saw Jason Whitlock depart The Undefeated. Big names aside, ESPN set itself up to cut 350 jobs this fall.

Plus, it’s losing you guys. Backing up an extra year, ESPN has lost 7 million subscribers since 2013.

Oh, and then there was that whole Ashley Madison hack, which revealed that 101 ESPN employees signed up from work to be members of the adultery website. Not a good look, not a great year.

Empire

Winner: “Empire”
Remember, “Empire” technically premiered in 2015. Since its January series debut, the Fox hip-hop soap opera has dominated broadcast television, becoming a true phenomenon in the process.

Gawk at these numbers, rest of TV: Calendar year-to-date, “Empire” originals have averaged a massive 7.2 rating in the key 18-49 demographic/22 share with 17.6 million total viewers, per Nielsen’s seven-day delayed-viewing numbers.

Oh, and the music is pretty good too.

ABC-wicked-city

Loser: “Wicked City”
ABC’s awful “Wicked City” was canceled after just three terrible episodes this fall. (Amazingly, another Loser towards the bottom of the list didn’t even last that long.) “Wicked City” didn’t just have bad ratings, it had historically bad ratings.

The third episode of “Wicked City” actually matched the lowest-rated non-Saturday drama original on the major four broadcast networks in Nielsen People Meter history — and you can take that tie away when focusing solely on the Disney broadcaster.

The show didn’t arrive to any more fan-fare than it had upon exit, either. Leading up to its debut, TV critics slammed “Wicked City” for its violence against women — and they hadn’t even seen anything beyond a teaser at the time. The feeling didn’t change, however, when the full episode was made available.

jon-snow-kit-harington-game-of-thrones-finale

Winner: “Game of Thrones”
We would have made this winner HBO as a whole, but one glaring series prevented us from being so bold — check out our Losers for details on that.

While HBO took home the most Emmy Awards this year, it was crown jewel “Game of Thrones” that set a record in the process, scoring 12 trophies, including best drama. The show also dropped the season’s biggest cliffhanger with the apparent death of Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Not bad for a year’s work.

true detective season 2

Loser: “True Detective,” Season 2
Hey, here’s that HBO asterisk! 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 capped the McConaissance and was the latest reminder tha 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.

FNC Prime Talent

Winner: Cable News
A year before an actual election year can be good business for cable news, especially when an all-time blowhard like Donald Trump is leading the way. Not only has Trump and co. blown up debate ratings, setting records in the process, but the day-to-day craziness is still something to lean on. Tragic as they are, the recent mass shootings have also spelled big Nielsen numbers for the CNN’s of the world.

Even better than big year over year gains at the aforementioned Turner cable news channel? Lead-dog Fox News Channel finished runner-up only to ESPN across all of cable in primetime viewership this year — the first time that’s ever happened.

The Briefcase

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

For those who luckily missed it, “The Briefcase” gave a (you guessed it) briefcase of cash to a family without means, but it came with a twist. Contestants were then told of another family in need, and granted the opportunity to keep all the money, give it all away, or share it in some capacity. The catch? The second family was given the same briefcase full of cash and marching orders. Hilarity did not ensue.

flash-suit-featured

Winner: The CW
The CW is the only broadcast net that is actually up year over year in ratings (ABC is flat, and NBC has a bit of a rough comparison versus a Winter Olympics year). Thanks to its low starting point, the youngest-skewing network actually appears to be up a great deal, growing 17 percent in the key 18-49 demographic. In reality, that’s just one-tenth of a ratings point better than last year, but every little bit helps!

The CW seems to have found a bit of a niche, with shows like “The Flash” finding hit series out of the comic book bin. Will DC’s “Legends of Tomorrow” grow on the tradition for ’16? Check back here in a year. In the interim, Mark Pedowitz and company can hold their heads high at critics’ dinners too, as “Jane The Virgin” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” just got Golden Globe nominations.

TLC

Loser: TLC
It’s rarely a good year 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 day this summer. The delay and timing was not exactly well-received by the press. Making matters worse, TLC had just scrapped “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” in Fall 2014 for not entirely different reasons.

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

Netflix

Winner: Streaming Platforms
Cord-cutting continues, and the streaming segment of the industry is reaping the benefits. Not only are subscriber numbers growing, but acclaim is hitting all-time highs.

In the recently revealed Golden Globe nominees, Netflix led all television  networks with eight nods, besting traditional awards-season beast HBO by one nomination. Just as significant were advances made by Amazon and Hulu. The former drew five nominations, following last year’s first nods and wins for “Transparent.” The latter netted its first nomination, for the Jason Reitman-produced comedy series “Casual.”

Together, the three streaming services drew 14 nominations — five more than the commercial broadcast networks combined. In other words, disruption is in full swing.

Fox

Loser: Ryan Seacrest
Ryan Seacrest‘s “Knock Knock Live” lasted just two episodes. Yes, two. That makes “Wicked City” looks like “Doctor Who.” OK, maybe not.

Beyond that reality show disaster, Seacrest has had a big of a rough 2015. His most-notable gig, “American Idol,” has basically been canceled, though gifted a shorter farewell season. This year, the Seacrest-produced “Kardashians” universe had a lot of pop culture interest due to Caitlyn Jenner’s transition and Lamar Odom’s overdose, but the whole empire seems to be winding down beyond quick hits. Seacrest is attached to the Jennifer Lopez-starring “Shades of Blue,” on which his future viability as a scripted producer may hinge.

To be fair, Seacrest shines on New Year’s Eve — but this is being written in mid-December. So, tough luck, Ryan.

late-night-618-412

Winner and Loser: Late-Night TV
We have no idea where to place this entire day part. On the one hand, the turnover this year has been pretty exciting, if nothing else.

James Corden is definitely an upgrade over Craig Ferguson, and his CBS colleague Stephen Colbert is surely better than a check-out David Letterman an hour earlier. But Colbert was also better on “The Colbert Report,” which was better than “The Nightly Show.” That’s not a knock on Larry Wilmore, he’s actually been doing a pretty good job — but no one can touch the beloved Comedy Central Colbert character.

And then there’s Trevor Noah. The South-African comic is making a splash in terms of advanced metrics and younger demos, but Noah’s “Daily Show” can’t currently hold a candle to Jon Stewart‘s in terms of quality or social relevance. At least in some capacity we got a little diversity in late-night, but just some.

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