Early in the 2010-11 season — when it had become apparent that fall’s crop of new series hadn’t yielded much in the way of quality — Zap2it looked back at the previous decade and declared the 2004-05 season the best one since 2000 for new shows.
This year’s crop, while better than last year’s, did nothing to change that opinion. Now, with Wednesday’s (Feb. 8) announcement that “House” will end in the spring after eight seasons, we’re looking back on that year again — and once again marveling that one broadcast TV season could produce so many good, daring and in several cases enduring shows.
And as the TV business continues to change, both in terms of the people and outlets producing shows and the ways we watch them, it seems unlikely that the broadcast networks will ever produce a crop of new shows like it again.
The six broadcast nets (The WB and UPN were two years away from consolidating into The CW) debuted about 60 new shows that season, and per usual, a good chunk of them didn’t survive into 2005-06. With a lesser slate of scripted shows, the season could have gone down as the year of junky, ripoff reality shows: FOX alone tried to fill its fall schedule with dreck like “The Complex: Malibu,” “Renovate My Family,” “The Next Great Champ” (a copycat of NBC’s “The Contender”), “The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best” (one of two “Apprentice” clones that fall, along with “The Benefactor” on ABC) and “Nanny 911” (rushed on to compete with ABC’s “Supernanny”).
The season also brought its share of forgettable comedies and dramas: “Blind Justice,” “Clubhouse,” “Hawaii,” “Listen Up!” and “The Mountain,” to name a few. But the number of quality, long-lasting shows that premiered that season is pretty remarkable.
In addition to “House,” 2004-05 also featured the debuts of “The Office,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Lost,” “Veronica Mars” and “Boston Legal.” The first three are still on the air, as are “American Dad,” “CSI: NY” and “The Biggest Loser.” “Housewives” is also ending this season, but the others are at least decent bets to continue into 2012-13.
That season also produced long-running shows “Medium” and “Numb3rs,” along with the short-lived but high-quality “Eyes” on ABC and “Jack & Bobby” on The WB. Additionally, “Family Guy” returned to FOX in January 2005 after three years off and “Battlestar Galactica” debuted as a weekly series on cable in the fall of ’04.
We’re not sure what was in the pilot-season air leading up to the fall of ’04 — maybe the broadcast nets saw the continued success of HBO and the inroads FX was making into original programming and decided to take a bet on antiheroes (“House”), a high-concept serialized drama (“Lost”) and a satire/embrace of suburbia and prime-time soaps (“Desperate Housewives”). But it was a burst of risk-taking rarely seen in network TV
For a good while, those risks paid off handsomely. ABC’s shows helped it become relevant again after a couple of pretty bad years. “House” rose from the ashes of that reality-filled fall on FOX to become a long-running hit. “The Office” has been a consistent bright spot for NBC for most of its run.
There have been up and down development years since 2004-05, but none of them has produced new series with the combination of quality and staying power that season had. More recently, the networks have shown a tendency to play things safer in development, ceding a lot of the more challenging ideas to cable. We’re always hopeful, but we have a feeling it will be a long time before a group of pilots is as good as the one from “House’s” year was.