'Modern Family': Final Nielsen Ratings a Mixed Bag

Yahoo Contributor Network

Artistic aspirations and critical acclaim aside, nailing stellar ratings and nabbing the associated advertising dollars are the name of the game when it comes to success for a prime-time network television series. If you don't believe that, take a look at the final Nielsen ratings for 2011-12 and note that the top rungs are populated largely by glitzy, attention-grabbing shows that don't necessarily produce a cultured aura. You might also note that some pretty decent offerings have slid out of the collective consciousness due to poor time slots or other factors, and have suffered the cruel fate of cancellation as a result. Even some of the very best shows on television have found the going pretty tough during the current reign of reality programming, and maybe nowhere is that more obvious than with the case of "Modern Family," damned with the faint praise of an overall ranking of 17th.

In decades past, a sitcom nestled in at Number 17 probably would have been deemed a moderate success, and certainly not one of the better comedies on the air. This year, though, that slot means that "Modern Family" checks in as the third highest-rated sitcom on network television, behind only "The Big Bang Theory" and "Two and a Half Men." Judging by the litany of awards that it has garnered in its three-year run, "Modern Family" has a legitimate claim to being the best sitcom on the dial and certainly stands up well against the two CBS competitors who landed above it in the ratings this season. Still, Number 17 is a long way from Number 1, and "Modern Family" would probably do well to look for opportunities to close that gap.

Over its first couple of seasons, ABC's hit comedy made a big play for celebrity guest appearances. This tactic has traditionally been taken by shows that were starting to flag and were looking for anything to spice up their landscape, but "Modern Family" embraced outsiders from the get-go. In Season 3, though, "Family" seemed to eschew this device and opted instead for fairly mundane story lines that focused on the show's own characters. This is a noble endeavor, of course, but the lack of movement in terms of character development led to a certain staleness that may have cost the show some ratings points. It seems that "Modern Family" needs to inject new life into its everyday world, either in the form of some shiny new guest stars or, better yet, some juicy new story angles.

At the end of its third season, "Modern Family" is a bona fide veteran of the sitcom world, and it's time to firmly establish its identity for the long haul. Its season-long Nielsen ratings were decent, though, uninspiring, and they place the comedy firmly in the realm of shows that have reached a crossroads of sorts. The course it takes next will determine whether the series becomes a true classic or simply another solid entry that entertained audiences for a while.

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