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This story first appeared in the Nov. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Broadcast TV’s narrative of evolving ratings expectations finally might be translating to longer life expectancies for new series. The 2014-15 season, about to enter its third month, hardly has been the bloodbath many are accustomed to seeing. Even some of the poorest-performing series (sorry, Mulaney) have escaped the hatchet. And it’s not only because several networks boast smaller-than-usual benches. ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and, perhaps to a lesser extent, The CW all have fulfilled the promise of waiting for extensive time-shifting data before deciding series’ fates. Ratings-gazers also have pulled back on snap judgments. Despite plenty of opportunities to rake fall’s less-than-fresh offerings (especially the comedies) over the proverbial coals, many insiders note that the court of public opinion’s tone is more civilized than during seasons past. “Live-plus-same-day seems to be meaningless,” says one veteran showrunner, seeing his series’ year-over-year losses offset by DVR growth. “No one really knows when to judge the success of a show anymore because the timetable is so odd. People are still assimilating to how big of a change this is going to be.”
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But who’s benefiting most in this shifted climate? With the possible exception of ABC and its runaway success How to Get Away With Murder, no network has launched what could be considered a game-changer. NBC’s No. 1 status in the 18-to-49 demographic still comes courtesy of Sunday Night Football and a somewhat-fatigued The Voice, and CBS’ lifts can be attributed to its recently concluded Thursday NFL games. Fox executives are said to be pleased with Gotham, but the rest of their freshman lot — holdovers from former chairman Kevin Reilly‘s tenure — has the network languishing in fourth place. And The CW, though moving the chains thanks to The Flash, still is running its own race. “In the whole season, there are five shows that are working: The Flash, How to Get Away With Murder, Scorpion, Gotham and possibly Black-ish. … That’s it,” says one top agent. “You can’t presume that anything else that limped to a back order will come back for a season three, five or seven.”
Thanks to the success of How to Get Away With Murder, ABC has done what many thought impossible during the DVR era: thrive by programming an entire night of high-rated scripted entertainment. “For any show to work in such a competitive, fragmented world everything needs to line up,” says ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee. “In broadcast, it takes time to build momentum. It is extremely gratifying to see that pay off.”
Low-rated Tuesday comedies hardly are a problem unique to ABC — it’s a sore spot for Fox and NBC as well — but the sputtering of now-canceled Selfie and Manhattan Love Story at 8 p.m. didn’t hurt only that hour: The lackluster lead-in the pair provided is one reason Agents of SHIELD is down 40 percent compared with last season.
The New Shows
How to Get Away With Murder 4.6
Selfie CANCELED 1.5
Manhattan Love Story CANCELED 1.2
Briefly moving The Big Bang Theory to Mondays — thanks, football! — did wonders for CBS’ previously troubled night. Broadcast’s highest-rated show provided the ideal boost for breakout drama Scorpion. “Their Monday is up 49 percent in adults 18-to-49,” says Sam Armando at media-buying firm SMGx. “And Scorpion has shown that it will definitely survive without the Big Bang lead-in. It’s right up there with Gotham, without anywhere near that much promotion.”
Moving Mom to Thursdays might have been a good idea, but the night’s new sitcom, The McCarthys, is shaping up to be a low point. Premiering to a middling 1.7 live-plus-same-day demo rating, the show hasn’t curbed rumblings of the network’s internal frustration with comedy.
The New Shows
NCIS: New Orleans 2.9
Madam Secretary 1.9
The McCarthys* 1.7
Pouring most of its marketing resources into Gotham, Fox launched one of the fall’s few indisputable hits. The Batman prequel easily ranks as a top 10 nonsports show on broadcast and boasts some of TV’s biggest DVR gains — including 74 percent improvement in live-plus-7 ratings.
Everything else. Fox is headed for a major course correct after its lackluster fall, and new Fox Television Group chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman aren’t wasting time in trying to move away from Gracepoint and Mulaney and the already-canceled reality venture Utopia. The duo handed a straight-to-series order to the Ryan Murphy horror comedy Scream Queens and announced a revival of the family-friendly game show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
The New Shows
Red Band Society* 1.8
Utopia CANCELED 1.2
While chairman Bob Greenblatt and company hold their collective breath to see how Katherine Heigl’s State of Affairs plays when it launches Nov. 17, NBC has had a modest hit in Debra Messing’s The Mysteries of Laura. Still no juggernaut in the key demo, and hardly a critical darling, it is pulling nearly 10 million viewers at 8 p.m. Wednesdays — a vast improvement in its tumultuous time slot.
“Must-See TV,” at least in terms of comedy, is gone. Limiting Thursday laughers to one hour didn’t help NBC’s most troubled night. “NBC’s entire comedy rollout was a wasted opportunity,” says a top TV lit agent. “Both the Thursday shows were dead on arrival, and their one hit, Marry Me, is pulling a 1.5 in the demo after The Voice on Tuesdays.”
The New Shows
Marry Me 2.0
The Mysteries of Laura 1.7
Bad Judge CANCELED 1.5
A to Z CANCELED 1.2
The Flash has been the biggest thing to happen to The CW. Not only does the Arrow spinoff outrate everything else on the network by at least 65 percent, but also it’s outpacing most Big Four launches. Says CW president Mark Pedowitz: “For The Flash, and Jane the Virgin as well, the series’ subsequent episodes really delivered on what the pilot promised. You’d think it would always be the case, but more times than not … shows fail to deliver.”
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WHAT’S WORKING LESS
Its ratings aren’t much to write home about, but Jane has given The CW and star Gina Rodriguez rare critical cachet. (THR chief TV critic Tim Goodman called it “fall’s best new broadcast drama.”) Also, it has been a step in the right direction for the network’s softer Monday as all of The CW skews more toward adults 18-to-49.
The New Shows
The Flash 2.0
Jane the Virgin 0.6
Source: Nielsen; most-current season-to-date adults 18-to-49 averages, as of Nov. 3.
*Does not yet have a full-season order.
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