New TV Series: The Mentalist A Bona-Fide Hit, Fringe A Success

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November 13th, 2008

A new report out from MAGNA today on New and Returning Series Performance.

Here are some highlights:

Barely two months into the new season, Election night is over and the November Sweeps are underway. We now have a clear picture of which new shows are working and which ones are not. In a better economy, we suspect we would have seen many more cancellations at this point in the season.

Much talk still centers on how the networks’ new series are performing, but we feel compelled to again point out that network’s returning series have a much greater impact on its position in the marketplace. There are two basic reasons for this:

There are simply far more returning shows on each network’s schedule than new shows.

When a new show flops, it is usually replaced by a show that does better. When a returning show starts to decline, it often continues to slide and is then more often than not replaced by a show that does just as poorly or worse. (Bill's comment - That's a very interesting observation)

CBS has declined the least among the broadcast networks. Among adults 18-49 it’s down 6% (just two-tenths of a rating point) from a year ago, and is now tied with ABC for the lead. It is alone in first place among adults 25-54 (down 7% from a year ago). (Bill - You can see our charts of the 2008-9 season here, and the Season vs. Season data here)

CBS has so far had the most success with new series. The Mentalist is a bona-fide hit, and the only show that has been able to hold onto most of its NCIS lead-in audience. The Thursday drama, Eleventh Hour has alternated with E.R. for the time period lead.

The new Monday comedy, Worst Week, has been competitive in a relatively weak time slot, while the new Wednesday comedy, Gary Unmarried, has held onto its Old Christine lead-in audience, and is ahead of ABC and NBC. Both must be considered modest time-period successes (although either can probably be replaced without losing any viewers). The new Friday drama, The Ex-List, may be in trouble (Bill's comment: In trouble? more like cancelled)—it has been pre-empted the past few weeks for NCIS repeats (which have performed better).

But CBS does not have enough new series success to have a major impact on its average ratings for the week. The performance of many CBS returning shows contribute more to the network’s overall performance. The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, NCIS, Criminal Minds, CSI: NY, and Ghost Whisperer are all doing better than last season.

FOX only had a few new shows, and Fringe is its lone new success. The network’s typical pre-American Idol 4th Quarter decline continues, but has been less severe partly because of the success of its Sunday lineup—American Dad, Family Guy, King of the Hill, and The Simpsons are all up from a year ago. Bones is also up a bit from last season. FOX’s more competitive standing in the 4th Quarter, bodes well for its full-season performance (as long as Idol holds up).

NBC has had no success with its new series (which may be an indication that the pilot process, while expensive, is nonetheless important—FOX and CBS, with the most successful new shows, did produce pilots). NBC’s new comedy, Kath & Kim, and its new dramas, Knight Rider, and Crusoe, have all been big disappointments for the network. And its most heavily promoted new show, My Own Worst Enemy, was just canceled.

NBC has had trouble developing new shows for a few years now. The network’s 13% decline among adults 18-49 is more a result of its poor returning series performance. Only 30 Rock and Biggest Loser are currently ahead of last year’s pace. Heroes, as well as second season shows, Chuck, Life, and Lipstick Jungle (just canceled), are down 20% or more from a year ago. All other returning series on NBC are down by varying degrees among viewers under 50.

NFL Sunday Night Football has helped keep NBC afloat. But without some new successes materializing, NBC could have big problems come January.

ABC only had one new scripted series, Life on Mars, which will be given another chance—moving to Wednesday following Lost in the 1st Quarter. ABC has declined the most from a year ago, primarily because its strongest series, Grey’s Anatomy, Deperate Housewives, Dancing With the Stars, Brothers and Sisters, and Ugly Betty, are all down 15-20% among adults 18-49 from last season. Second-season shows, Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money, and Private Practice are down even more.

ABC needs Lost to perform well when it returns, and needs a new series success or two in mid-season, if it is to stem a more significant decline in the second half of the season.

CW continues to have trouble developing new series. 90210 is doing OK, but Privileged and Stylista are weak. On the returning series front, Gossip Girl and Supernatural are up from a year ago. The network’s other returning shows are down.

The report is packed with show by show data that we are unable to publish on most shows, so the numbers folks will want to download the entire report here.

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