At the critics tour this summer, only "Viva Laughlin" was presumed a bigger dog than "Moonlight."
Early in the season, when it became clear "Moonlight" had some passionate fans—but not yet clear it had enough—CBS executives joked they were worried that "Jericho"-inspired viewers would mail them garlic if they canceled the show. With "Moonlight" consistently winning the 9 p.m.. hour and its ratings improving steadily, they're not worried anymore.
As for "Samantha Who?" the show was a second-string contender in ABC's fall arsenal whose performance has surprised everybody. If you think high ratings are automatic for any show following a big hit like "Dancing With the Stars," ABC has some post-"Grey's Anatomy" real estate to sell you.
Sharpest Buzzdrop: "Aliens in America"
Generally critics continue to pimp a show whose premiere they enjoyed, even if it struggles in the ratings. Not so here. The "Aliens" pilot received positive reviews and then dropped off the map. With an average rating of about 0.8, it seems even those paid to watch TV shows aren't watching this one.
Best Proof Critics Aren't Smarter Than the Rest of Us: "Pushing Daisies"
In recent years critics have struggled to convince viewers to appreciate "Arrested Development," "The Wire" and "Friday Night Lights." The critical consensus going into the fall was that "Pushing Daisies" was a clever, unique and literate drama and so, naturally, only critics would appreciate the show. Guess what? Viewers got it.
Biggest Underdog: CBS' "Cane"
No, not "Gossip Girl" or "Reaper" or some other show that has received publicity disproportionate to its audience. "Cane" is a true underdog: low-rated with anemic press, yet not nearly as bad as you think. The show's sleepy subplots are ready-made for TiVo fast-forwarding, but with every episode, the main storyline has shoved protagonist Alex Vega further into a dark hole that seems impossible to escape.
Biggest Strike Beneficiary (tie): "Cane," "Reaper," "Big Shots" and "K-Ville"
All fell below their network's respective red lines for their time periods, then kept going.
Biggest Mess: "Bionic Woman"
The tragedy of "Bionic Woman" was that NBC had the right idea. Throughout the summer, insiders wondered if NBC's saturation bombing of ads for its retooling of the 1970s flop would help draw an audience. Then the premiere garnered the biggest number of the fall (at the time) and beat "Private Practice"—clearly viewers were ready and willing to watch a "Bionic" remake. But NBC wasn't ready and willing to deliver a polished product. The ratings have dropped sharply with nearly every episode amid behind-the-scenes retooling.
Strangest Evolution: "Kid Nation"
An unprecedented amount of pre-air controversy. A soft premiere rating. Subsequent viewership drops and, later, some gains. "Nation" seemingly started with one audience (car-wreck reality gawkers) and ended up with another (kids and their parents). Fans say the show keeps getting better.
Most Foregone Conclusion (tie): "Viva Laughlin," "Life Is Wild" and "Nashville"
Viewers watch ads for lame-sounding new series and read supportive comments made by network executives in the press and wonder how these people find their car keys in the morning. Truth is, most programmers privately have a clear sense of their show's flaws long before the public catches on. In the case of this trio, just about everybody at their respective networks knew they weren't going to work, yet aired them anyway. Some credit here to Fox, which may have plowed ahead with "Nashville," but also yanked weak-buzzed "New Amsterdam" off the fall schedule in August despite a lack of scripted fall programming.