Best and Worst New Shows of the 2011-12 TV Season

  • Publish Date: May 23, 2012
  • Comments: ↓ 12 user comments

Great show, weak year

ImageIs Showtime a threat to HBO?

For the first time in three years, TV's best first-year series was not on HBO, though it was on pay cable. Showtime's addictive thriller Homeland 91, starring Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin as CIA agents who suspect that a rescued American soldier (Damian Lewis) may be working with terrorists, is not just the best-reviewed newcomer in the 2011-12 TV season, it's the highest-scoring first-year series in Metacritic history (dating back to 2005, when we launched our TV coverage). HBO, which took the #1 spot in each of the past two seasons (with Boardwalk Empire 88 and Treme 87), had to settle for second place this year with its divisive new comedy Girls 87.

Why all this talk about cable series? It's simple: 2011-12 was not a great year for new series on broadcast television. Just two of the 10 highest-scoring newcomers this season aired on broadcast networks, though the highest-scoring broadcast show (NBC's rapidly declining Smash 79) did earn a higher score than last year's best network show (Fox's The Chicago Code 75). Actually, it wasn't even a great year for cable series; Homeland and Girls were the only two new series to score above 79, while the previous season saw five new shows exceed that mark.

But just how bad were things on the broadcast networks? Despite launching 22 new series to generally positive reviews from critics (a nearly 45% percent success rate, up from the previous season's 39%), four of the five networks saw their season average Metascores decline versus the previous year, with only NBC's showing an improvement. The reason for those declines was a marked increase in the number of stinkers; this season saw the introduction of nine new shows with terrible reviews from professional critics, compared to just three for the 2010-11 season.

Despite the fact that only 40% of its new shows received positive reviews from critics (the second-lowest success rate among the five broadcast networks), low-rated NBC actually edged out its competitors to place first in average Metascore (for first-year shows only) for the season, knocking Fox out of the top spot for the first time since 2008-09. Here's how the new shows launched by the broadcast networks compared in 2011-12:

Broadcast Network Quality Comparison (New Shows Only), 2011-12 Season
Network 2011-12 New Shows % Good Average Metascore Score Change vs.
2010-11 Season
Score Rank in
2012 / 11 / 10 / 09
NBC positivepositivepositivepositivepositivepositivemixedmixedmixedmixedmixedmixedmixedmixednegativenegativenegative 40% 57.0 ↑6.0 1st5th 4th 5th
Fox positivepositivepositivepositivepositivemixedmixednegativenegativenegative 56% 56.1 ↓6.9 2nd1st 1st 4th
CBS positivepositivepositivemixedmixedmixednegative 43% 53.8 ↓1.2 3rd3rd 3rd 1st
ABC positivepositivepositivepositivepositivepositivepositivemixedmixednegativenegativenegativenegativenegative 54% 53.6 ↓2.4 4th2nd 2nd 2nd
CW positivemixedmixedmixednegativenegative 20% 51.6 ↓2.4 5th4th 5th 3rd

Averages and rankings do not include summer shows. Each dot represents a new show with positive (positive), mixed (mixed), or negative (negative) reviews from critics. A few reality shows (negative) did not have enough reviews for us to calculate a Metascore.

The 2011-12 season's best and worst new shows

Before Homeland, the previous record high Metascore for a first-year series was 88, a mark most recently achieved by Boardwalk Empire. Metacritic users also liked Homeland enough to place it among their five highest-rated new shows of the season, though the Kelsey Grammer-starring Boss 78 was the only other program to score highly with both critics and users. While all five of our users' highest-scoring shows did receive positive reviews from critics, one of the critics' favorites—Girls—did not go over well with our users, who gave that show an average score of just 5.7. The only program on either list not to earn renewal for a second season was our users' second-favorite new series of the year, Awake 75.

Best Reviews from Top TV Critics
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
91 87 79 78 75
BBC America
Best Reviews from Metacritic Users
#1 #2 #3 (tie) #3 (tie) #3 (tie)
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
8.2 8.0 7.9 7.9 7.9
Once Upon a Time

Metacritic users and professional critics had no trouble agreeing on the season's worst new show: the abysmal ABC comedy Work It 19, which centered on two men who dressed in drag to secure employment. That show—the lowest-scoring network series since we initiated TV coverage in 2005—was axed after just two episodes, though that still seems like two too many. (ABC's 2007 sitcom Cavemen 19 is just a fraction of a point "better" than Work It.) The broadcast networks actually accounted for all of the lowest-scoring shows of the season, though keep in mind that many of those reality shows that pop up like weeds on cable do not receive enough reviews to qualify for the lists below.

Worst Reviews from Top TV Critics
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
19 28 30 31 33
Work It
Charlie's Angels
The CW
Last Man Standing
Worst Reviews from Metacritic Users
#1 #2 #3 #4 (tie) #4 (tie)
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
0.8 1.6 2.7 3.1 3.1
Work It
The CW
Charlie's Angels
Allen Gregory
How to Be a Gentleman

American television series with seven or more reviews and debuting between August 28, 2011 and May 15, 2012 were eligible for the above lists. Shows are scored and ranked based on reviews published at the time of the original first season debut; returning series are excluded from these lists. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). Although scores have been rounded to the nearest whole number, shows are ranked prior to rounding. User scores represent an average of scores assigned by site visitors on a scale from 0 (bad) to 10 (good). All scores as of May 22, 2012

The season's best new network and cable shows

Last season saw a slight improvement for the broadcast networks at the top end of the scale; six new series received a Metascore of 70 or higher, besting last year's total of four, while NBC's not-quite-a-smash-hit Smash achieved a score higher than any network series in the previous season. And CBS was the only network not to land a show among the ten highest-scoring first-year series—that's right, even The CW managed to do so, though their entry, Canadian import The L.A. Complex, was the lowest-rated drama pilot in broadcast network history. Several other shows on the list below failed to win over viewers despite scoring with critics; NBC's Awake and Bent were canceled at the end of the season, as was ABC's Pan Am.

Best Reviewed New Network Television Series, 2011-12 Season
  Show (Network) Genre Metascore Users
1 Smash (NBC) Drama/musical 79 7.1
2 Awake (NBC) Drama 75 8.0
3 Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 (ABC) Comedy 71 6.7
4 The X Factor (Fox) Reality competition 70 5.3
5 The L.A. Complex (The CW) Drama 70 n/a
6 Suburgatory (ABC) Comedy 70 7.3
7 Bent (NBC) Comedy 68 5.5
8 Pan Am (ABC) Drama 67 7.5
9 New Girl (Fox) Comedy 66 7.3
10 Revenge (ABC) Drama 66 8.2

Cable, meanwhile didn't produce as many critical hits as it normally does, with just two new shows receiving widespread acclaim this season:

Best Reviewed New Cable Television Series, 2011-12 Season
  Show (Network) Genre Metascore Users
1 Homeland (Showtime) Drama 91 7.9
2 Girls (HBO) Comedy 87 5.7
3 Boss (Starz) Drama 78 7.9
4 Whitechapel (BBC America) Drama 75 6.1
5 Enlightened (HBO) Comedy 75 6.3
6 Luck (HBO) Drama 75 7.1
7 Key & Peele (Comedy Central) Comedy 74 6.3
8 Veep (HBO) Comedy 72 7.2
9 The Fades (BBC America) Drama/Sci-fi 69 7.4
10 All-American Muslim (TLC) Reality 69 6.2

With Downton Abbey 84 officially switching out of the miniseries category into the regular drama category for this year's Emmy consideration, it leaves fellow British import Sherlock 91 (also in its second "season") to take top honors in the miniseries, movies, and specials category for the 2011-12 season, after the latter title placed second to Downtown Abbey in the previous season.

Best Reviewed Movies, Miniseries, or Specials, 2011-12 Season
  Title (Network) Type Metascore Users
1 Sherlock (PBS) Miniseries 91 9.1
2 Frozen Planet (Discovery) Miniseries 90 7.9
3 Prohibition (PBS) Miniseries 86 7.8
4 Sing Your Song (HBO) Movie 86 n/a
5 The Loving Story (HBO) Movie 81 n/a
6 Vietnam in HD (History) Miniseries 78 n/a
7 Appropriate Adult (Sundance) Miniseries 77 n/a
8 George Harrison: Living in the Material World (HBO) Movie 75 n/a
9 Game Change (HBO) Movie 74 6.9
10 Scott Turow's Innocent (TNT) Movie 68 n/a

Network performance

On the next page, we examine the performance of each broadcast network in greater detail.

Comments (12)

  • khan2705  

    Well i am personally really interested in watching Smash and Girls. Homeland without a doubt is one of the best shows ever and i really hope it does maintain that status. Sherlock, Awake, Enlightened, Once Upon a Time are the shows i loved with Once being a good guilty pleasure. Whereas Pan Am, New Girl, Touch, The River are the shows i just liked. I left watching Person of Interest, Terra Nova and Missing in the middle as i lost my interest in them completely or else i finish a show anyway! Loved The X-Factor too.

  • LamontRaymond  

    What's going on at NBC. They actually put some good solid shows out there - Awake, Bent, Prime Suspect, and The Firm (all of which I watched) - and you can't get the masses to pay attention! Not even slapping the Playboy logo on a show worked. A pity. And let's go, CW - renew LA Complex - it's fun and more than a little daring. You have to love these Canadian imports (see The Lost Girl, Degrassi).

  • JRath  

    The fact that NBC cancelled Awake just proves even further that they should be in last place. Hopefully another network is smart enough to pick it up...God knows Ill watch it. Im thinking USA or TNT should get it.

  • MarcDoyle  

    It\'s great to see White Chapel getting some recognition - a consistently entertaining crime drama. Actually, Dramaville on BBC America in general churns out great shows fairly regularly (The Hour, Luther, etc.) The one miss in my book is the current White Heat - ZZZZZzzzz. Speaking of putting me to sleep, Game of Thrones is significantly less entertaining this season than it was last year, which is really too bad. I was hoping its willingness to take such huge risks in Seas 1 would pay dividends, but it really has not.

  • Woodsy  

    I tried to get into a lot of these network shows, but the only one that stuck for me was "Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23". Love the humor! As far as cable...go "HOMELAND"!!!

  • dunker  

    Some random thoughts:
    Boss just blew me away.
    Sherlock was even better than last year, and that's saying a lot.
    Homeland, Luther and Whitechapel were each great, but were just a notch below Boss and Sherlock.
    Good Wife, Southland and Justified were what I like to call "franchise shows". I looked forward to watching them each week.
    I'm probably forgetting some show, but that may just indicate that the rest of the shows I regularly watched this season were basically just "time killers"--shows I watched to kill time in the evening (when I wasn't watching NBA basketball).

  • FredMertz72  

    Woman Detective shows. It Is Becoming Such A Cliché. The men quality shows are being replaced with female shows for some reason.

    Justified (FX)
    Being Human (SyFy)
    Alphas (SyFy)
    Stargate (SG1, Atlantis, Universe)
    Mad Men (AMC)
    Breaking Bad (AMC)
    Walking Dead (AMC)
    Hell on Wheels (AMC)
    Burn Notice
    Sons of Anarchy (FX)
    The League (FX)
    Archer (FX)
    Royal Pains
    Grimm (NBC)
    2 ½ Men (CBS)
    Person of Interest (CBS)
    Downton Abbey (PBS)
    Sherlock Holmes, (PBS)
    Top Gear (BBC)
    Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)

    These are the ones I like and watch.

  • AaronBC  

    Revenge was easily the best new network show (great casting, consistently excellent writing and a very strong finale), with Once Upon A Time a somewhat distant second. Over on cable, Homeland really was incredible and totally stole the season..

  • urkobg  

    Revenge the best new network show and Homeland best new cable show!

  • Jonzvu  

    FredMertz72 I agree with just about all you wrote. I'd just add HBO's NEWSROOM as its initial episodes were active and THE shows "on air" issues not that far off target even though they may need to gain some balance by looking, and veering a bit left in their critical behavior analysis. Then I'd say BOO to those who neglected to appreciate The Killing. Well written, directed and marvelously supermen or women, just humans with warts and heart.

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