Subscribe To Stranger Things, The Olympics And TV's Other Big Summer Winners Updates
As the fall TV season starts to rear its entertaining and boredom-stalling head through the yearly inundation of trailers and teasers, we can look back on a summer of television that was surprisingly solid across the board. While these school-free months used to be the bane of a couch potato's existence, networks (combined with season-free streaming services) have taken advantage of the formerly quiet period to keep audiences' eyes peeled year-round. Not everything went well - sorry, Uncle Buck - but here are all the big winners of the TV world from the summer of 2016.
Primetime Celebrity Game Shows
ABC already knew that Celebrity Family Feud was a killer entry in those months when expensive scripted television isn't as viable an option, and so the network expanded that approach by reviving the classic game shows To Tell the Truth (with Anthony Anderson hosting), The $100,000 Pyramid (with Michael Strahan hosting) and Match Game (with Alec Baldwin hosting). It's safe to say that this was a winning idea, as each of the shows has brought in surprisingly big ratings on Sunday nights, even against competition from the Olympics and CBS' lineup. People love watching famous people look silly, especially when it involves yelling at the TV. And while no celebs were involved, NBC Sports recently started airing Sports Jeopardy, formerly a Crackle exclusive, so this summer has basically been a utopia for game show fanatics.
Because Netflix is pretty light on the marketing and promotion, almost all of its new shows that aren't Marvel-related need an extremely strong word-of-mouth push to keep the interest building after release. I can't imagine that anyone thought the period sci-fi horror Stranger Things would be the must-see show to reset the bar for how that's done, but the genre fan in me couldn't be more pleased. Stranger Things is fantastic for so many reasons, from its cast to its mysteries to its 1980s aesthetic, and it's all the more enjoyable knowing that creators Matt and Ross Duffer busted their ass and faced a lot of rejection to get it made. Look at its massive popularity and weep, mortal fools! If a thousand new horror shows get ordered on Netflix and beyond in the next month, we'll know who to send the Eggos to.
Non-Superhero Comic Book Shows
Considering how omnipresent costumed characters are now on the small screen, it's hard to believe the recent onslaught of superhero TV only began in 2012 when Arrow darkened up the wake left by Smallville. But this summer strengthened the argument to look at non-heroic comic stories for equally fantastic small screen viewing, as evidenced by the stellar first seasons of AMC's Preacher, Cinemax's Outcast and Syfy's Wynonna Earp. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's Preacher made use of a great cast and some truly imaginative special effects to open up a deep tale, while Robert Kirkman's adaptation of his and Paul Azaceta's comic Outcast presented an extremely unsettling (and thus refreshing) take on the possession horror sub-genre. Meanwhile, Beau Smith's Wynonna Earp (which debuted in April) was a sleeper surprise, as its mix of supernatural action and western motif got increasingly more enjoyable as the season went on.
The NBA Finals
With the NFL season looming, it's easy to forget the NBA crowned its latest champion less than three months ago. For the second year in a row, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers faced off against Steph Curry's Golden State Warriors, the team that broke the Chicago Bulls' 20-year record for most wins in a season, and what a series it was. In Game 7, Cleveland became the only team in history to come behind from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals, and you can bet that ABC was extremely jazzed - sorry to bring you up already, Utah Jazz. That deciding game brought in over 31 million viewers, the biggest audience of any NBA game since the epic Game 6 of the Bulls/Jazz Finals in 1998, along with plenty of other ratings accolades.
Game Of Thrones
Yes, Game of Thrones may have premiered its massive sixth season in April, but the final four episodes came during June, so it totally counts. After all, it was during that time that Game of Thrones went next level with both the story and TV action sequences in general, thanks to the fantastic episode "Battle of the Bastards." As well, the weeks after that beast of a finale aired have been full of fans discussing the door-holding tragedies and the revealing magical visions and speculating about what could possibly come next. Those discussions might not be as single-mindedly rabid as they were last year when Jon Snow was thought dead, but they're just as intense, considering we now know there are only two seasons left to come.
HBO, Post-Game Of Thrones
The months after a Game of Thrones season ends can be truly awful for many TV viewers, and HBO hasn't always been great about finding suitable replacements for the epic saga, nor its comedic dropkick of Veep and Silicon Valley. Well, the network has absolutely done it this year, and the welcomed Season 2 return of Dwayne Johnson's sunny and snarky Ballers takes a backseat. HBO landed its funniest new show in years with Walton Goggins and Danny McBride's insanely rowdy comedy Vice Principals, and the premium cabler also managed to give audiences one of the year's most conversation-ready dramas in The Night Of, which has added scripted flourish to the detail-heavy world of true crime. True Det-what, now?
It was over a year ago when Donald Trump began his quest for the U.S. Presidency, but it was this summer when the race was officially whittled down to Trump and democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and TV audiences have been rapt with attention the entire time, particularly in the past few months. Both parties' National Conventions used celeb speakers and massive waves of interest to hook viewers in for primetime viewing, which definitely helped out the topically-minded late night shows. But it's not even just the major networks reaping rewards, as Fox News continues to crush its competition. (Possibly due to Donald Trump's selective picking and choosing who he gives interviews to.) And I think Veep's fifth season deserves to be mentioned here as well, since new showrunner Dave Mendel did the impossible by keeping the politi-com's extremely high quality and unpredictability intact.
The Summer Olympics
Let's be real right here up top. I'm not sure everyone at NBC is jubilant about the numbers put up by the company's round-the-clock-and-then-some multimedia coverage of the Rio games, since these Summer Olympics have been widely criticized as one of the lowest-rated in NBC's history with them. But you won't find me trying to poo-poo on NBC drawing a audience of over 24 million people on both a Friday and a Saturday in 2016, and while the live streaming numbers weren't incredible, they still tended to add at least a million more pairs of eyes on most days. Everybody in the world was talking about the Olympics, too, and mostly for good and non-trolling reasons. Plus, no other programming on TV this year will have as many literal winners, so it made it here by default anyway.
We all have a soft spot for the things we once loved, and entertainment has a way of making that kind of stuff easily available again. MTV owner Viacom followed in its own Splat-tastic footsteps at Nickelodeon by once again embracing the bulk of some beloved 1990s content, in this case by rebranding VH1 Classic as MTV Classic. And starting at the beginning of August, TV viewers once again got to flip from network to network in the evenings and randomly land on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged or an episode of Daria or an exercise in super-subversion with cult hit Wonder Showzen. A lot of the network's greatest hits are there, with themed blocks that have certainly already been the cause for costume parties across the country. Uhhhhh, it's pretty cool, huh-huh.