Important Note: The Network Upfronts are next week (May 12th – 15th), starting off with NBC likely announcing their schedule on May 11th but the future of nearly all existing shows and pilots will be determined by late this week.
TV by the Numbers… We Don’t Have Access To?
As the season comes to a close, I hope I have informed (and maybe entertained) you with my pet theories and observations. For all the topics I’ve written about, however, I have to admit there are a surprisingly large number of shows this year (on all the networks) whose fates are legitimately uncertain heading into this week.
I’m far from the only person to have noticed this, and over at The A.V. Club Todd VanDerWerff wonders if that uncertainty, along with the “surprise” renewals of shows like The Mindy Project, suggests that we have entered a new era where “viewer passion and other hard-to-measure metrics may be just as important to renewal as raw data”.
Unsurprisingly, as a numbers guy, my short answer is “hogwash”. My long answer is that, just as the television audience continues to fragment, shrinking margins mean the overall profitability of a given TV show depends on more and more sub-factors we just don’t have access to. The decisions are just as quantifiable as ever – except now, only the accountants and executives at Fox, Warner Bros, etc. know all the numbers that go into those decisions.
Executive Producer Pay
On NBC, just how much money it takes for Dick Wolf to get out of his Law & Order: SVU bed in the morning will likely factor into the fates of Revolution and Parenthood (and SVU itself). On Fox, let me point out two things: Family Guy has not yet been renewed (though some unaired episodes remain for next season); Dads has not yet been canceled. Given how woefully Dads did without being paired with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I would be surprised if Seth MacFarlane can put together a bundle persuasive enough to keep Dads on the air – but I can’t rule it out either.
This Spring, ABC aired three shows from ABC Studios: Mixology, Trophy Wife, and The Neighbors. None are clear renewals. Will Suburgatory find itself in the cold due to its WB ownership? Or will ABC pick up more in-house pilots than usual? (Hrm, given that new shows are produced at a loss, the supervillain move would be to pick up pilots from multiple studios (thus spreading the downside to others), and then once the DOA shows are weeded out, prioritizing your in-house shows for renewals (thus keeping the upside to yourself). Does Paul Lee drive a Jaguar?) Over at The CW, does the extremely WB-skewing schedule (and that’s before The Flash enters the picture) mean that the few CBS shows will have more of a shot than the numbers would suggest – or will some WB pilots find themselves out of luck?
The prevailing wisdom for The Mindy Project’s renewal is that it does better than average in W18-34. Having good sub-demos is a useful tie-breaker, but didn’t seem enough to counter the huge 18-49 gulf between The Mindy Project and something like New Girl (or the rest of Fox’s lineup, for that matter). Now that all the Fox live-action comedies have declined to The Mindy Project’s level though, the renewal is less of a shocker.
As to why we don’t focus more on sub-demos like A18-34 or W18-34 (despite, say, Spotted Ratings wondering if A18-34 may flat out be better than A18-49 as a predictor), the answer is simple – the numbers simply aren’t widely reported, and we don’t have years of historical precedent to work with. Note that widely reported isn’t the same as widely known – imagine my surprise to find out that the overnight PR emails Fox, NBC, and ABC (and likely others) send out list the A18-34 numbers, along with a host of other sub-demos. (I’m not sure which is more alarming about Two and a Half Men being just a tenth behind American Idol in Kids12-17 this Thursday – that so many teens are watching the content of the former or that there is so little upcoming demo support for the latter.) The next time you read an entertainment site reporting on overall viewers while knowing they have access to even more interesting (and frankly meaningful) sub-demo data, you can grind your teeth even harder.
While the “old rules” were relatively straightforward (18-49 performance + syndication prospects), there was one very large exception. Call it the “HBO Corollary”: a set of shows whose overall profitability depends in large part on their performance in secondary markets, like DVD sales. The problem is that networks cannot wait to see the performance in those secondary markets before they make their renewal decisions – cast contracts would have expired by then. The only solution for those shows is to have the renewals running one season ahead of the DVD results. This is why HBO renews all their new shows (most after the first episode) – because the real decision doesn’t come until they see the DVD, streaming, etc. numbers.
(Since we’re in the time of year to talk about historical surprise renewals, one other member of this club? Dollhouse. My opinion is that Fox wondered (or worried) if Dollhouse would have strong DVD sales, due to the success there of Whedon’s last show (Firefly). This is the real reason for the “Fox not airing ‘Epitaph One’” mess. It wasn’t that Fox hated the show so much they would throw out fresh inventory (especially since they would later air all 13 episodes of Season 2); it was that the entire renewal was predicated on solid DVD sales (and the producers’ claims that Season 2 could be produced on the cheap), and what better way to goose the Season 1 sales than to limit the episode to the DVD?)
This week’s category moves:
Almost Human was cancelled by Fox. As previously covered, television history gave it long odds to survive; apparently, even the demise of The X-Factor didn’t create enough room to give the show a second chance.
Bad Teacher plummeted 33% in Week 2. While you could argue that the show was up against stronger-than-average competition on NBC this week, 1) Networks tend to judge late season swoons harshly, and 2) The “best” case is that Bad Teacher is highly influenced by the competition. Either way, I can’t imagine CBS gives it another shot.
Friends with Better Lives, against stronger competition on Mondays, is holding up nicely even while its Thursday competition buckles… so I moved it to “Cancellation Predicted”.
Let’s be clear: if CBS renews another comedy, I overwhelmingly believe it will be Friends with Better Lives. The question then becomes, what are the odds that CBS renews another comedy? CBS is highly unlikely to need emergency spackle next Fall: both new comedies will get The Big Bang Theory as a lead-in, with the Monday newbie getting 5-6 airings behind TBBT (and likely being the stable How I Met Your Dad spin-off anyway) and the Thursday newbie likely getting its entire run behind TBBT.
The only way a FwBL renewal makes sense is if one of Mike & Molly or Two and a Half Men gets such a short order that it needs to be paired with another show to fill out the timeslot for the season (despite both shows likely needing to cover five less weeks out of the season due to Thursday Night Football) – and even then, CBS renewing a non-CBS owned midseason show is something they haven’t done in a decade or more. Network history would suggest they pick up another pilot instead.
Unforgettable and Black Box are both Summer shows whose fates depend on their Summer ratings (among other factors) and thus won’t be known for months. For clarity’s sake, I’ve removed them from the table.
Tom Shaw is a computer programmer from Milwaukee, WI. Bereft of Lost theories to argue about, he's spent too much time attempting to figure out the TV industry.
Save yourself from hibernating bears! Direct your criticisms to @tvtomshaw instead!
Note: only scripted shows that have aired at least one episode this season are in the table below.
|Back In The Game||ABC||Canceled|
|Once Upon a Time in Wonderland||ABC||Canceled|
|How I Met Your Mother||CBS||Final Season Finished|
|We Are Men||CBS||Canceled|
|Nikita||CW||Final Season Finished|
|American Dad||Fox||Moving to TBS|
|The Michael J. Fox Show||NBC||Canceled|
|Sean Saves The World||NBC||Canceled|
|Welcome To The Family||NBC||Canceled|
|The Neighbors||ABC||Cancellation Predicted|
|Super Fun Night||ABC||Cancellation Predicted|
|Trophy Wife||ABC||Cancellation Predicted|
|Bad Teacher||CBS||Cancellation Predicted|
|The Crazy Ones||CBS||Cancellation Predicted|
|Friends with Better Lives||CBS||Cancellation Predicted|
|The Mentalist||CBS||Cancellation Predicted|
|Beauty & The Beast||CW||Cancellation Predicted|
|The Carrie Diaries||CW||Cancellation Predicted|
|The Tomorrow People||CW||Cancellation Predicted|
|Surviving Jack||Fox||Cancellation Predicted|
|Growing Up Fisher||NBC||Cancellation Predicted|
|Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|The Goldbergs||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|Grey's Anatomy||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|Last Man Standing||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|The Middle||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|Modern Family||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|Once Upon a Time||ABC||Renewal Predicted|
|Hart of Dixie||CW||Renewal Predicted|
|The 100||CW||Renewal Predicted|
|Family Guy||Fox||Renewal Predicted|
|About a Boy||NBC||Renewal Predicted|
|Law & Order: SVU||NBC||Renewal Predicted|
|The Big Bang Theory||CBS||Renewed|
|The Good Wife||CBS||Renewed|
|Mike & Molly||CBS||Renewed|
|Person of Interest||CBS||Renewed|
|Two and a Half Men||CBS||Renewed|
|2 Broke Girls||CBS||Renewed|
|The Vampire Diaries||CW||Renewed|
|The Mindy Project||Fox||Renewed|
|Parks and Recreation||NBC||Renewed|