The Media Notepad: Few are partying with “Chicago Party Aunt”

Bad reviews, viewer feedback sink show as show falls off radar. Also: ESPN 1000’s Mike Thomas exits; ex-B96 jock Roxanne Steele leaves Detroit radio job; Peanuts specials back on PBS

Remember a month ago when this space crowed about Chicago Party Aunt, telling her to party on? Well, the party may be soon over as not too many viewers are hanging out with her as the animated set-in-Chicago series received mixed critical reviews amid harsh reaction from social media and other review sites.

Released on Netflix September 17 about a middle-aged woman who lives a carefree lifestyle, Aunt hasn’t been reviewed much as the show only managed a 56 percent score on Metacritic and an even worse 33 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Those numbers are lower than some of the broadcast networks’ new shows on both sites including ABC’s reboot of The Wonder Years; CBS’ Ghosts and NCIS: Hawai’i; Fox’s The Big Leap; and even below NBC’s moribund LaBrea. The Rotten Tomatoes user score for Aunt is far better at 72 percent, but social media reaction has been far worse.

The harshest review came from…the hometown Chicago Reader: I suppose the gimmick worked well on Twitter, where this unknowable caricature of a blue-collar Chicagoan could interrupt your feed with an unexpectedly raunchy come-on directed at a public figure who is on the platform out of some sense of professional obligation. On the show? Not so much,” said reviewer Leor Galil.

From IMDB, the series received a viewer rating of only 5.3, as many posters straight up trashed the show. On Twitter, many viewers unfavorably compared the series to Family Guy. 

Even worse, the series – whose first eight episodes were released on September 17, isn’t generating the same kind of buzz other streaming series are getting, including Hulu’s Only Murders In The Building, Apple TV’s Ted Lasso, and Netflix’s own Squid Game, which has become a global overnight sensation. As of October 8, Aunt wasn’t trending in the top ten most-watched or on Netflix’s homepage but given the short episode order, those who want to watch it did so already (in four hours) as the viewing churn on Netflix is quick as viewers will simply move on to something else.

From the evidence presented here, Chicago Party Aunt seems closer to Chicago Code, APB, and The Red Line – terrible made-in-Chicago flops from the last decade than more successful series such as Shameless, The Chi, and Dick Wolf’s Chicago action/drama trilogy. From the reviews this person has read, the show has way too many Chicago references and character development is absent (the teenage nephew looks like a 40-year-old version of Stephen Colbert.) The only people who seem to like this show are longtime residents and Chicago media types, but most never went to film school or wrote a script. Even Family Matters and Good Times had plots without pointing out “we’re living in Chicago!” every two minutes.

And no, Chicago Party Aunt will not save our city’s woeful image on the world stage, an issue this space has talked about ad nauseam since this blog launched fifteen years ago. If Citadel CEO Ken Griffin saw Chicago Party Aunt, he’ll have even more incentive to pack his bags.

It’s a reminder a presence on the World’s Most Popular Streaming Platform ™ doesn’t automatically mean a hit show. If that weren’t the case, Jamie Foxx’s critically panned Dad! Stop Embarrassing Me would be the hottest freaking sitcom on the planet. Instead, it played the real-life version of Squid Game and lost, but there is a positive – at least we’re spared the title of Foxx’s show being used as a catch phrase on every street corner across America. 

Remember Roxanne Steele from WBBM-FM, a.k.a. B96? The twelve-year veteran of the station announced Monday she was exiting WDRQ-FM Detroit after just five months as co-host of a morning show called Broadway In The Morning with Bill Broadway. According to her Facebook page, Steele departed the station due to a vaccine mandate initiated by Cumulus Media, WDRQ’s owner. All Cumulus employees must be vaccinated by September 27 in order to return to offices October 11. So far, Steele is the only known departure.

Many media companies – notably Disney, Radio One (Urban One), and Cumulus have mandated their employees get vaccinated for Covid-19. However, Texas has barred any entity – private or public, from instituting vaccine mandates. This could pose a problem as basically every major television and radio group operates in the state – including WGN owner Nexstar, who is based in the Dallas suburb of Irving. This could also pose a problem should other states – mainly those controlled by Republican legislatures, adopt the same stance. Vaccine mandates have been a hot button-issue across the country, and Chicago is no exception.

As for Steele, she hasn’t been able to duplicate the same kind of stability when she was in Chicago, where she also did afternoons at the former Fresh FM. Since moving to Detroit, she’s worked at Top 40 outlet WDZH-FM, Hot AC WDVD-FM, and country station WYCD. Working at a station with a rich history – WDRQ at one time had Cheers and Fraiser writer Ken Levine as a radio personality – the outlet hasn’t had much success in the last two decades or so. Currently a country station, WDRQ tied for 18th in the Detroit market with a 1.7 share in the last Nielsen Audio survey.

After two years at Good Karma Brands’ WMVP-AM/ESPN 1000, Market Manager Mike Thomas is departing for a similar position at Audacy’s cluster in Boston, with the added title of senior vice-president. It’s a homecoming for Thomas; he programmed 98.5 FM The Sports Hub/WBZ-FM for a decade before coming to Chicago in 2019. Audacy owns six stations in the Boston area, including all-sports WEEI. 

“I am thrilled to welcome Mike back to Boston to lead Audacy’s leading brands here,” said Audacy regional president Mark Hannon. “Mike’s a proven winner and his leadership will be critical in moving the business forward.”

Good Karma vice president of marketing Debbie Brown was named interim market manager of ESPN 1000.

Even though ESPN 1000 still trails rival WSCR/The Score in the sports ratings race, Thomas brought the Chicago White Sox back to ESPN 1000, added an FM translator for HD Radio broadcasts and pairing up David Kaplan and Jonathan Hood in mornings during his short tenure.

“It was an amazing two years,” Thomas said to Robert Feder, who first broke the story October 8. “An incredible time of innovation at ESPN Chicago. Good Karma Brands is a best-in-class operator of world-class brands and I’m happy that I was part of it, even if only for a short time. I will take what I learned here and use it the rest of my career.”

Heading off any potential protests, Apple TV announced last week it is making three long-cherished holiday favorites available to PBS stations – It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Oct. 24); A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (Nov. 21); and A Charlie Brown Christmas (Dec. 19). The shows are also being made available for free on Apple TV for a limited time.

Apple stunned fans at this time last year when it was announced they acquired not only the streaming rights to the three Peanuts holiday specials, but all the rights on an exclusive basis, ending their 55-year run on broadcast network television airing on CBS and for the last two decades, ABC. But backlash ensued and Apple relented, putting the Thanksgiving and Christmas specials on PBS, though the deal was made too late to get Great Pumpkin on. This year marks the first time the special airs on PBS.

On October 24, Great Pumpkin is airing at 5:30 p.m. on WTTW and 6:30 p.m. on PBS Kids; and the Thanksgiving and Christmas specials will air on both channels at 6:30 p.m. on the dates listed above.


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