Debuts flip ratings script
'Fringe,' '90210' among series beating the numbers gameHere's a refreshingly sunny statistic for broadcasters: It's barely October, and 22% of new scripted series already have been picked up for full seasons.
With Fox ordering more of "Fringe," averaging a 4.0 rating among adults 18-49, and the CW wanting more "90210" (2.0), about one in five new fall shows has demonstrated enough ratings strength to warrant a full season. With CBS' "The Mentalist" (3.6) growing, there's also a strong chance of a pickup announcement by that network soon.
Despite doom-and-gloom ratings headlines for broadcasters this fall, three viable scripted shows among the scant nine launched isn't half bad, especially out of the gate.
Granted, some freshman series are struggling. Fox quickly canceled its comedy "Do Not Disturb," and neither of CBS' new comedies, "Gary Unmarried" (2.3) and "Worst Week" (3.4), has inspired much confidence. Also, the premiere of CBS' Friday dramedy "The Ex-List" (2.0) fell 17% from the bow of "Moonlight" in the same slot last year.
Things are worse on the unscripted side, where Fox's "Hole in the Wall" (2.4) is the walking wounded on Thursday and ABC's "Opportunity Knocks" (1.8) has limped along in fourth place during its time period.
If there has been a lesson for broadcasters, it's that it's easier to launch a show than to relaunch a show viewers barely remember. The CW's "Gossip Girl" (up 6%) and CBS' sophomore comedy "Big Bang Theory" (-3%), which returned with fresh episodes last season after the writers strike, are off to solid starts.
Meanwhile, the entire crop of freshman shows cut short by the strike has suffered steep declines. Perhaps the strike victims are too deeply in an audience twilight zone: The titles are not unfamiliar enough to inspire curiosity, but they have not aired long enough for viewers to feel invested in what happens next.
Last week, ABC's Wednesday block set the most dramatic example. "Pushing Daisies," "Private Practice" and "Dirty Sexy Money" launched together last year as a bold plan to unveil a new night of programming for that network. It largely worked, with all three shows initially earning healthy ratings, though their numbers declined as fall turned to winter.
The trio just returned after 10 months and, like other strike-struck titles during recent weeks, fell dramatically in the ratings: The season premiere of "Daisies" dropped 55% from last season's premiere, while the bow of "Private" declined 37% and the debut of "Money," the only title among the three to show improvement from its last-aired episode in December, dropped 33%.
ABC is hardly alone in that regard: Ratings for the season premieres of NBC's flagship "Heroes" (-32%) and sophomore comedy "Chuck" (-25%) also declined from those for last season's premieres.
Shows usually experience a couple weeks of ratings decline after their premieres, then they settle. It's not an iron-clad pattern, though, and networks hope their strike-struck shows can continue to gather new and returning viewers.
If they can't, then there are fresh names coming down the pipe: CBS' Jerry Bruckheimer-produced "Eleventh Hour," ABC's "Life on Mars," and NBC's Molly Shannon comedy "Kath and Kim" and Christian Slater starrer "My Own Worst Enemy."
If the past couple of weeks are an indication, it's a rough crowd out there, but at least the networks have a shot at jump-starting audiences.