The fall television season has not really begun, but it’s all but certain that the season’s most-watched programming begins tonight. Yes, I’m talking about “Football Night in America” (7 p.m., NBC) and NFL football (7:30 p.m., NBC). While tonight’s game features the Super Bowl champion New York Giants versus the nationally popular Dallas Cowboys, any NFL football game broadcast on any given Sunday should be the most-watched game of the week, every week, from now until the end of the season.
This wasn’t always the case. ABC always had a winner with its old “Monday Night Football” franchise. But that wasn’t always the most popular program, outrating its rivals, sometimes 2-to-1.
The truth is, television football has probably not gotten any more popular, but in a fractured TV audience, it’s among the few programs left that attract in excess of 20 million viewers. Back in the day, those kinds of audiences used to turn out for any episode of “Who’s the Boss.” But that was a long time ago.
NFL football is also the last dependable way to lure men to television in large numbers. This has had a profound effect on television programming.
The successes of CBS’ “2 Broke Girls,” Fox’s “The New Girl” and HBO’s often dreary and self-absorbed “Girls” mark a seismic shift in television comedy. Guys aren’t watching, so let’s make comedies for our audience.
Charlie Sheen’s epic 2011 meltdown may have stemmed from personal problems, but it could be remembered as a metaphor for the implosion of male-centric comedy. Sheen’s new FX series, “Anger Management,” will earn few awards for originality, and attracts an average of 2 million viewers. But FX is so happy to get them that it’s awarded Sheen with an all-but-unheard-of commitment for 90 additional episodes. If that’s not a sign of broadcaster desperation, I don’t know what is.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Coverage of the Democratic National Convention (6 p.m., CNN, Current; 7 p.m., PBS, MSNBC; and 9 p.m., ABC, CBS and Fox News) continues. Live feeds of the gathering can be found on Internet sites maintained by YouTube and C-SPAN.
• Six perform, but only four move forward on “So You Think You Can Dance” (7 p.m., Fox).
• A mother and daughter with very different temperaments fall prey to the same ailment on “Royal Pains” (8 p.m., USA).