The 2011-12 TV season officially ended last week, leaving the broadcast schedule simultaneously overfamiliar and unrecognizable. Overfamiliar, because if a show is in the same time slot it's occupied for the last eight months, it's bound to be in reruns. Unrecognizable, because the network lineups are suddenly full of reality competitions, Canadian imports and sports.
If you want to see new scripted television, the cable networks are the place to go: In the coming weeks, buzzy new series like HBO's "The Newsroom" (Aaron Sorkin!), USA's "Political Animals" (Sigourney Weaver!), ABC "Family's Bunheads" (Amy Sherman-Paladino!), and FX's "Anger Management" (Charlie Sheen!) will debut alongside returning favorites such as "Breaking Bad," "True Blood" and "Louie."
Why have the broadcast networks never truly embraced summer? Americans, especially the young ones advertisers most want to reach, spend more time away from their televisions when the nights are light, the weather is warm and the kids are on vacation, so TV advertising is at its cheapest. With less money coming in, the networks abandon pricey original dramas in favor of budget programming: dating games, talent shows and cops in oddly nonspecific North American cities talking aboot catching criminals.
If June, July and August are of any use to the big six networks, it's as a period of experimentation — many staples of the regular broadcast season, especially reality mega-hits like "American Idol," "Survivor" and "Dancing With the Stars," got their first trial airings in summer. These months can also provide a second chance for sitcoms. Vacations and outdoorsy activities, which keep people away from their TVs, mean that heavily serialized dramas fare poorly, but sampling-friendly comedies can thrive. Onetime NBC chief Warren Littlefield's new book "Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV" reveals that "Cheers" and "Friends" blossomed in summer reruns, and more recently ABC's "Happy Endings" found its audience in second, warm-weather showings.