Here are a few facts about “The Muppets”:
– Only two new broadcast shows this fall, “Blindspot” and “Supergirl,” had a higher premiere rating than its 2.9.
– No other new show, however, has had as steep a decline: “The Muppets'” same-day 18-49 rating has dropped more than 50 percent since the premiere, with a line that looks like this: 2.9, 2.0, 1.7, 1.3, 1.4.
– ABC’s intent from the outset was to do a shorter-than-usual season of “The Muppets.” Network head Paul Lee said as much at the upfronts in May.
– The Muppets characters are a sizable cog in the Disney machine that also includes ABC.
A combination of all those things — the strong start, the less-than-great subsequent ratings, a desire to maintain the brand — leads us to the news that ABC has ordered three more episodes of “The Muppets” for a total of 16 this season. Having your show extended is never a bad thing, but it’s hard not to think this isn’t the ideal outcome.
Had the show’s ratings stayed closer to those of the premiere or even episode 2, it would have surprised no one to see ABC “The Muppets” to 18, 20 or 22 episodes. Conversely, the network could also have held fast to its original idea of a short run, effectively saying, “‘The Muppets’ are popular enough that fans will relish a 13-episode season and anticipate the next one.”
The in-between order of 16 feels most like ABC giving the show a little extra time to steer things in the right direction. Critics and fans have been put off somewhat by the snarky, world-weary tone of “The Muppets,” which doesn’t line up very well with the characters’ history, and ratings seem to reflect that distaste.
The slight uptick this week is encouraging, and if it holds or continues a slight upward curve that will indicate “The Muppets” has found its level. But that remains to be seen.
For now? The show will remain one of the most interesting cases of the fall. Such a recognizable, beloved brand should have been a slam dunk. But just about nothing is anymore.