Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The War of 18-49, Community


Scheduling history: Nearly all of the Community run has taken place in the Thursday 8/7c timeslot. Exceptions: the show premiered in 2009 with a three-week tryout after The Office, it aired at 8:30 once in 2010 after a Halloween special, and in 2012 it aired three episodes on one night (at 8:00, 9:00 and 9:30) to end its season.

See (who saw) how it all began: Many of NBC's post-Office comedy launches premiered well, and Community was no exception. It began with 7.89 million viewers and a 3.8 demo rating on 9/17/09, holding nearly all of its The Office lead-in (4.1 demo) in the Thursday before the start of the regular season. But Community took a massive drop to a 2.7 in week two against full-fledged premiere competition, and it rebounded only marginally in week three (2.9). From there, it was off to the 8:00 slot, where it began on 10/8/09 with just a 1.9 demo. It actually improved a bit from there, especially in the late fall and winter when it consistently managed low-2's, but by season's end it had settled down in the 2.0 vicinity.

The best of times: The series premiere was the first and last time the show would ever put a three before the decimal point, and the two subsequent episodes were the only others north of 2.5. But in the last couple years, despite pretty terrible ratings on the whole, it's developed an interesting ability to bring droves of viewers for premieres and returns from hiatus. The 2.2 demo in its return from a 3+ month hiatus on 3/15/12 handily outshone any other rating that season, and then the show hung a surprisingly high 1.9 in the first episode of the post-Dan Harmon era on 2/7/13, up from the previous season's premiere.

The worst of times: In each season, Community declined faster than the league average, and it's not like it started out lighting the world on fire. The back half of season three and most of seasons four and five saw demo ratings in the low 1's. It dipped below 1.0 for the first time with a 0.9 on 4/3/14, then matched that 0.9 on 4/10/14 (which would ultimately be the series' penultimate episode).

Then vs. now: It wouldn't have been off-base to expect Community was doomed coming into each of the last three seasons. Its ratings can't be called impressive by any standard, and its only real hope was that it'd look like a reliable alternative in the face of a meltdown of NBC's comedy development. Unfortunately (for NBC) that's become a common occurrence. In 2012, NBC hedged their bets by handing out short renewals to a bunch of marginal comedies and hoping something stuck. Community's -19% in season four wasn't exactly sticking, but it looked pretty favorable compared to the one-third drops from Whitney and Up All Night. Combine those with another round of development in which NBC disastrously attempted to brew "broadness," and things were even more dire leading into the 2013 upfront. This time, NBC was much more liberal with the axe, but "bird in the hand" Community found a way to survive yet again. The comedy situation didn't improve for NBC in 2013-14, but instead got so bad that NBC's not even making an effort at a two-hour comedy night in 2014-15. Combine that with newbie About a Boy getting renewed and weakening Parks and Recreation being held for Community's usual replacement role, and NBC finally had the recipe for a Community cancellation. It came just a year shy of the show fulfilling its "six seasons and a movie" meme.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

Seas Year Timeslot Avg y2y Lo Hi Results Grade
12009-10Thu 9:30, Thu 8:
22010-11Thursday 8:001.85-16%1.42.4detail

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

Seas Year A18-49+ Label Now15 y2y Lo Hi Premiere Finale
12009-10 78 marginal1.31 57 135 135 71
22010-11 73 marginal1.23 -7% 55 94 87 59
32011-12 65 flop1.09 -11% 55 93 72 55
42012-13 59 flop0.99 -10% 47 90 90 62
52013-14 58 flop0.98 -1% 48 74 69 53

For more on The War of 18-49, my look at the history of primetime TV's veteran shows, see the Index.


Spot said...

Not that I think the show would have done better on a different network, but Community's felt like a Fox sitcom rather than an NBC one (you have it listed as a CW show by accident; The CW would kill for another show to average 1.24 :-D). It's audience skews very young (probably one of the shows that helps lower NBC's median age) and it feels like something that could have been paired with the quirky-ness of New Girl or Raising Hope. What's also helped Community make it past the second season is a very passionate fan base a la Chuck and a wheeling-and-dealing studio that'll do anything to get a show to syndication possibilities (Sony).

Spot said...

Nice catch on the CW, thanks!

Spot said...

Community is the ultimate bullet-dodging show.

The time it looked most like a cancellation was towards the end of season 2 when it was getting beaten by Outsourced at 10:30. But by that point, NBC had already given the show an early renewal. Since then it's coasted on NBC's chronic lack of comedy success, proximity to syndication and a horrible time slot.

It's hard to divorce the show's continued existence from its tough timeslot. In 2010-11, it started facing tough competition from the Idol results show and The Big Bang Theory. 30 Rock's complete meltdown in the same slot in 2011-12 likely bought it a lot of time.

The season 4 decrease is also somewhat less dramatic than it might first appear because it only aired in spring when ratings are lower overall.

It's also hard to argue that NBC didn't make the right decision in renewing Community for season 5. The production company is likely making the show cheap for the network, it's hard to make a compelling case that their newer comedies were any stronger (especially since they didn't air into May) and veterans tend to be more stable in the ratings compared with new shows.

Spot said...

Five seasons, no movie, but syndicated against all odds!

Spot said...

Community was revived by Yahoo Network. Its fifth season won't be its last.

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