While CBS may be getting shellacked in the ratings war by Fox (who isn’t, really?), that doesn’t mean the network with a reputation for being a little bit stodgy (sorry, Les) doesn’t have a few tricks up its sleeve. How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 8:30 p.m.) is a case study in how a network leverages a show with a prime demographic to not only market its advertisers, but itself to a younger, hipper audience.
Case in point: last week’s episode starring Britney Spears, which broke the show’s ratings records in key demos (to use the industry parlance). And this was not an aberration. When Bob Barker was set to retire from CBS’s long-running game show The Price Is Right, Mother had an episode celebrating the beloved host with an elaborate plotline in which Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), believing Mr. Barker to be his father, negotiated his way onto the show, where he won the Showcase Showdown (naturally). Earlier this season, around the time CBS had scheduled a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, in sashayed Heidi Klum and friends. And this week, Barney will promote the network’s NCAA tournament coverage by implementing a tournament-style bracket system to figure out which of his many exes has a vendetta against him. It’s clear the show knows how to play well with its corporate overlords—and without jeopardizing its increasing popularity. What does that say about its key demos?
Don’t worry baby boomers! T.V. hasn’t forgotten about you. That babe Paula Zahn hosts Retirement Revolution (PBS, 10 p.m.). The challenges of becoming a senior citizen are addressed (peeing freely notwithstanding) and a history of the retirement trend is traced. Record it and watch it later—perhaps before your bed time on another day—to avoid the ubiquitous commercials for Life Alert. And the geriatric fun continues …
Live to Be 150 …Can You Do It? (ABC, 10 p.m.) is hosted by Barbara Walters, who studies the new fountain of youth: drugs which slow the aging process. She also does some interviews—which is typically her wont—with Dorothy Young, a 102 year-old woman who was Harry Houdini’s stage assistant in 1926, yet still dances and paints, and Paul Newman, who’s 83 and likes to race cars. Then Ms. Walters asks a specialist the one question everyone wants to know the answer to: Will she be hosting The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2083?
Between his eight TV shows and 43 restaurants, its hard to tell when Gordon Ramsay is supposed to get a wink of shut-eye, which goes a long way toward explaining his regularly tantrums on Hell’s Kitchen (Fox, 9 p.m.). Or else it’s just showbiz! In its fourth season, expect it to become all that much more clear that the American version of the show isn’t really about cooking at all, but rather about the volatile Mr. Ramsay and the audience’s anticipation of the next, bigger mental explostion—preferably over a bowl of under-cooked ri-zah-to.
As if the heartrending works of Tamara Jenkins (The Savages) or David Franzen (The Corrections) or Mark Haddon (A Spot of Bother) hadn’t done enough, PBS—is there some kind of old people theme this week?—unveils the documentary Caring for Your Parents (9 p.m.) It follows five families as they struggle to take care of old mum and dad. Still want to live to be 150?
Wednesday nights have become a bit of a joke. If you’re a network and you’re not Fox, you’re struggling to get over six million viewers to watch your shows. American Idol (Fox, 9 p.m.) quadruples that in a bad week, even though it’s not the best competition-based reality series on on Wednesday nights. That distinction of course goes to Top Chef (Bravo, 10 p.m.). Who cares what the ratings say? Tonight, however, Idol may have a tiny edge, as it plays host to Dolly Parton, who will be performing to promote her new album. Guess her back is feeling better!
It’s a well-known fact that NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker likes to be in front of the camera almost as much as he likes to run the company which owns it (see Curb Your Enthusiasm). Even so, it was odd to read that he will personally offer a recap of this season of My Name Is Earl (NBC, 8 p.m.). Upfronts can’t come soon enough, eh, Jeff?
Meanwhile, ABC drops the curtain on Miss/Guided (ABC, 8 p.m.). It had a solid, if uneventful run, but it was always planned as a short series. Either way, it was not the smartest lead-in for Lost (ABC, 9 p.m.), which, for better or worse, was in reruns for most of the comedy’s run. Lost returns with new episodes on April 24, long after it could have been any help to Miss/Guided or vice versa.
There are people out there who just love that Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi, 8 p.m.). Don’t bother them tonight, it’s the premiere of season four. As for the fans, isn’t nice to have plans on a Friday night, for once?