axeWe take a fair bit of abuse for some of our predictions, and we’re mostly pretty thick-skinned, and it’s a fact that sometimes we Bill will deliberately use words to incite the fandoms.   But one thing that manifests itself over and over is a general theme where if a show’s ratings suck, and we say the show’s ratings suck, or, heaven forbid the analysis indicates the show is going to be canceled, some people have a very bad reaction to it.

It’s sad in a way, because really it comes down to the inability or unwillingness to differentiate between the following:

  • Your show’s ratings suck
  • Your show sucks
  • You Suck!

If your show’s ratings suck, it quite often says absolutely nothing about the quality of your show, and it certainly doesn’t say anything about you.  But some people react exactly as if it did, and at that point, unfortunately, they do actually start to suck.

Knight Rider will be canceled.  So will Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  That’s as easy to predict as predicting that the Detroit Lions weren’t going to go to the Super Bowl once they were 0-10.  It’s not random at all.  There’s some basic science around it that has proved right almost every time in general.  And before you say, “but, but, but, almost every time is not every time,” it has in fact been right every time (so far) in cases of shows like Knight Rider and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

In ALL cases like these,  the shows get canceled

What case is that?  The case  when it’s a one hour scripted show and the show’s average ratings among 18-49 year olds are way below the average 18-49 ratings for the entire network.   Here are some fairly recent examples of shows that during this very television season, we accurately predicted would not be renewed:

  • Pushing Daisies
  • Dirty Sexy Money
  • Eli Stone
  • Lipstick Jungle
  • Life on Mars

What did all these shows have in common?  They fell well below the network average for adults 18-49.

There are some exceptions

Yes, it’s not infallible and there are exceptions, even with shows that fall well below the network’s average.  But it’s never Life on Mars and Eli Stone, it’s always freaking stuff like ‘Til Death and According to Jim that  wind up being kept around despite horrible numbers, to make money via syndication where there is apparently a very lucrative market for 30 minute sitcoms.

Sorry,  but total number of viewers doesn’t matter

People like to focus on total viewer counts, but the networks typically only focus on age demos.  We can debate whether this is good or bad, or right or wrong but the debate won’t change that it is actually that way. There are lots of age and gender demographics, and to be honest, a show like Knight Rider typically did pretty well, relatively speaking with men under 50, but the overall average for 18-49 viewership was so low not even that could save it.

Sorry, comparing your show’s numbers to shows on Friday and Saturday doesn’t matter

Some people will suggest that some of the shows on Friday night don’t do that well, and so we’ll see some stuff about how Knight Rider has done better than some of the Friday or Saturday shows.   With the exception of CBS (and FOX is giving it at least a half-hearted try) the networks mostly are shying away from scripted programming on Friday nights (and Saturday on NBC is nothing but reruns).  Yes, there’s Friday Night Lights, but at least this year, that is because DirecTV subsidized the production of the show via a special deal with NBC.  We anxiously await finding out whether that deal worked well enough to have another go at it.

Friday is different (and Saturday is even moreso)

Networks do make some special exceptions around ratings for a Friday night.  For example, Ghost Whisperer on CBS typically is the most-watched program on the broadcast networks on Friday night.  But if Ghost Whisperer pulled similar numbers Sun-Thursday it might well get cancelled.  Because expectations are different (lowered) around Friday night programming, you can’t really compare how a show does on Monday on NBC to how a show does on Friday on NBC.

In the case of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, even when you add in the DVR numbers (which were very good, especially considering the overall viewer totals) the 18-49 averages are still bad (and shrinking).

We typically only predict cancellation when we’re very certain

Our certainty comes from the numbers usually, and there are other factors.  But with shows like Life,  Knight Rider, Life on Mars – these are all shows that are performing (or trending to perform) well below average.   We’re not talking about shows that are just about average or a little bit below average.  Networks typically (though certainly not always) keep those shows.   But in cases like Knight Rider, the numbers are well below average, and so it’s easy to predict.    We don’t need press releases and announcements from the networks

I’m not sure if this approach will ever prove wrong with one hour scripted shows.  So far, all one hour scripted shows that fall well below average wind up not getting renewed.   That doesn’t mean your show sucked.  And it certainly doesn’t mean you suck.  It just means a show you like is going to get canceled.

Yep, that can suck

I know it sucks. But it doesn’t suck so badly that it makes me think I should just ignore the numbers.   NBC’s Life is a perfect example.  Barring a miracle never before seen where a downtrodden show (ratings-wise) miraculously improves its numbers a lot,  I’m sure Life is getting canceled. That’s too bad, because I enjoy the show.  But my enjoyment of the show doesn’t change that NBC isn’t going to renew it.  When the news hits I won’t be shocked or dismayed, and if somehow magically Life’s numbers turn around?  Yay!  But in the meanwhile I’m not going to go and delete it completely from the Renew/Cancel index and hope nobody notices.

I look forward to receiving an e-mail that says, “You said Life was going to get canceled, and it didn’t!”  And I look even more forward to Jupiter aligning with Mars to the point where somebody from The CW e-mails Bill and says, “You said Privileged would be canceled, but we renewed it.  HA!”

Trust me, our friends at The CW would love to send Bill that e-mail,  but unfortunately for Privileged fans, not probably anywhere near enough to actually renew Privileged.  But here’s hoping…

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Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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