I sorta go into the "how good was this season?" questions at the end of each year of First Two Weeks posts, but right here I'm going to put it all in one place and also attach some of my recently developed "hit/flop" labels. How has each freshman class of the last six years helped shape the primetime we know today?
The Classes by Season
For me, there are several ways to distinguish new shows: flop (below 70 A18-49+), renewed, "solid" (100+ A18-49+), "hit" (125+ A18-49+) and "big hit" (150+ A18-49+). We won't touch megahit (200+) since there hasn't been such a show in its rookie season in the A18-49+ era. Here are the numbers for the new scripted shows on the big four broadcasters (leaving out the CW since they'd have different standards):
Big Hits: Heroes (164)
Hits: Brothers & Sisters (125)
Solid: October Road (111), Rules of Engagement (108), Ugly Betty (106), Shark (103)
Sub-solid renewals: 'Til Death (77), 30 Rock (75), Men in Trees (75), Jericho (72), Notes from the Underbelly (66)
Renews by network: ABC 5, CBS 3, NBC 2, Fox 1
Five of the 11 renewals did not make it beyond season two. Two (Rules and 30 Rock) are still alive today, but both hanging by a thread. Aside from Heroes, which was a big hit for just two seasons before dropping totally sub-hit, there were not really any game-changers. B&S and Ugly Betty were both pretty decent players for multiple seasons but still well behind ABC's top dramas.
Hits: Private Practice (128)
Solid: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (117), Samantha Who? (111), Bionic Woman (106)
Sub-solid renewals: The Big Bang Theory (99), Pushing Daisies (98), Chuck (93), Dirty Sexy Money (88), Life (81), Lipstick Jungle (76), Eli Stone (75)
Renews by network: ABC 5, NBC 3, CBS 1, Fox 1
The WGA strike has an interesting effect on these numbers. While it was a weak year in terms of solid/hit shows, the shortened seasons for big scripted hits (and a lot of reality junk filling in) lowered the entertainment average, meaning a relatively low percentage of outright flops. The strike chaos also probably got a lot of shows renewed that wouldn't have been with a full season. A staggering seven of the 10 renewals went only one more season. However, slow starter but eventual megahit The Big Bang Theory almost singlehandedly lifts this class above some (maybe even most) others. Private Practice is also still alive (if seemingly by a thread after last Tuesday's results), and Chuck somehow eked out five seasons.
Hits: Fringe (135), The Mentalist (126)
Solid: Lie to Me (112), Worst Week (104)
Sub-solid renewals: Castle (81), Parks and Recreation (79), Gary Unmarried (76), Better off Ted (59), Dollhouse (49)
Renews by network: Fox 3, ABC 2, CBS 2, NBC 1
Only three of the eight renewals (the bottom three) were axed after season two, which is good. But only The Mentalist and Castle were really able to emerge as long-term solid players, and neither was a long-term hit. Overall, a very weak season.
Hits: Glee (143), Modern Family (135), NCIS: Los Angeles (125)
Solid: The Cleveland Show (113), Cougar Town (105), Accidentally on Purpose (103)
Sub-solid renewals: V (99), The Good Wife (96), Parenthood (94), Human Target (88), The Middle (81), Community (79)
Renews by network: ABC 4, Fox 3, CBS 2, NBC 2
Of the five seasons that are totally in the books, the class of 2009-10 looks like the best by a pretty long shot, even if Glee is just another quick burnout like Heroes. Unless basically all the bubblers are renewed this year, it'll have the highest renewal percentage, and a whooping nine of the 11 renewals went on beyond season two. Glee was very nearly the biggest scripted show on TV in 2010-11, and Modern Family should claim that title in 2011-12. Throw in the CW, where they developed pretty much their only hit ever (The Vampire Diaries) this season, and it was one great year.
Hits: Mike and Molly (133)
Solid: Hawaii Five-0 (120), $#*! My Dad Says (117)
Sub-solid renewals: Raising Hope (98), Breaking In (96), Bob's Burgers (92), Body of Proof (91), Harry's Law (71), Happy Endings (70), Blue Bloods (70)
Renews by network: CBS 3, Fox 3, ABC 2, NBC 1
Despite an above-average 34 new shows, an extremely low three even graded out as "solid," and all of those were CBS shows that took significant dips from their lead-ins. Even to get to that very low 26% renewals, it took (in my opinion) multiple reaches. There are several shows with a chance to make it beyond season two, but very few of them are going to storm into season three feeling great about themselves. Very weak season, and a catastrophe for everyone but CBS.
Big Hits: 2 Broke Girls (180)
Hits: Rob (140), Once Upon a Time (139), New Girl (137)
Solid: Person of Interest (122), Suburgatory (110), Napoleon Dynamite (110), Terra Nova (105), Revenge (104), Last Man Standing (102)
Sub-solid renewals: Apartment 23 (99), Smash (96), Touch (94), Scandal (85), Whitney (79), Up All Night (79), Grimm (65)
Renews by network: ABC 6, NBC 4, CBS 2, Fox 2
EDIT (6/25/12): A few more shows got renewed out of this bunch than I expected, meaning the renewal percentages ended up better than average just like the other labels. Only 2009-10 saw a higher percentage of its shows renewed. Obviously, the long-term analysis I had for previous years will have to come later.
By the big hit/hit/solid/flop standards, this looks like the best season for new shows out of at least the last six, but the gap with 2009-10 considerably narrowed in the last month of the season as Apartment 23 and Smash and Touch all dropped sub-solid. The hit/solid percentages are about on par with the great 2009-10 season, but there were noticeably fewer flops than in any other season. And this doesn't even counting the 42.5 hours of new unscripted big hit The X Factor. In sum, the gap between the new shows and the veterans is historically small this season. Is that about a great development season or a bad season for returning shows? I think both are true, really. There are a lot more "feel-good" new shows coming out of this season than in most others, and also fewer start-to-finish huge flops. There are also very few really good stories among returnees, basically just the CBS and ABC comedies, and lots of really bad stories (like American Idol).
As I said in my sitcom post, 2 Broke Girls finished as the biggest scripted hit in A18-49+ in the last six years. It doesn't really feel like that should be the case, because the show was certainly not as transformational from a scheduling standpoint as something like Heroes or Modern Family. It just fit right in with an already extremely strong lineup.
Put 'em All Together:
The basic numbers: about one in three scripted new shows gets renewed. Just below one in two newbies is a flop, around one in five or six is "solid," a less than 10% count as a "hit" out of the gate, and virtually none are "big hits."
There aren't too many clear trends across multiple years; in other words, each season is its own beast. The new shows seem to have caught up to the vets this season, but the previous season was perhaps the most disastrous of the last six. One thing does stick out: more new shows getting greenlit. There was a three-year period when the average number of scripted newbs on the big four was 26; two years later, there are 40 scripted newbies, or over 50% more! I'm not sure the extent to which the WGA strike or even things like The Jay Leno Show affected those numbers in that period, but it's still quite a change in a space of two years, and you wonder how much that stems from an increasing need to replace the veteran programs. I'm definitely interested to see how many get the pickup in the upcoming upfront season.
Even though I do not track these quite as systematically, I feel I should say a quick word about unscripted shows. Generally speaking, the upside with unscripted shows is they have a lot more potential to grab big attention right out of the gate.
|New Unscripted Hits|
|2006-07||129||Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? (Fox)|
|2007-08||174||Moment of Truth (Fox)|
|2007-08||128||American Gladiators (NBC)|
|2009-10||164||Undercover Boss (CBS)|
|2010-11||181||The Voice (NBC)|
|2011-12||161 / 152||The X Factor (Fox)|
Granted, most of those shows had some sort of big external boost, but they were also able to parlay that into a genuinely successful first season even after the boost was gone. It's kinda striking that there were four unscripted rookie big hits in the last six years but just two scripted, since the number of shows greenlit vastly favors scripted.
The downside? They also have a tendency to flame out, and fast. Moment of Truth and American Gladiators were basically dead by the end of season two! 5th Grader did OK-for-Fox-Thursday and then OK-for-Fox-Friday numbers and was quietly nudged off the schedule. Undercover Boss has had more staying power, though at a long way from those season one numbers. As for The Voice and The X Factor? To be continued. Talent competitions have had staying power, but all the returning ones have gotten slammed this season.
So far, I've exclusively used the A18-49+ numbers on entertainment programming. Next week, we dive into some of the alternate options that help us get through a 36-week season: reruns, specials, movies, sports.