Friday, June 21, 2013

Top 10 of the Last 10, Scripted Newbie Reach Renewals

The collective decline in Live+SD ratings makes it hard to fairly compare numbers across seasons. But with the A18-49+ stat, we have the technology! Enter the "Top 10 of the Last 10" lists, which will line up the last ten seasons (2003-04 thru 2012-13) and give us an idea of which shows were strongest after we set the collective decline off to the side. (I'll throw in the raw numbers too, to give a sense of how far ratings have fallen.)

Last time we looked at the top ten new shows of the last ten years. Today we're going to the other end of the spectrum, looking at the ten lowest-rated big-four new shows to eke out a second season. There are a bunch of criteria I'm applying to try to make this as apples-to-apples as possible. The most important is there are no Friday shows, since many Friday shows would make this list but were hardly "reaches." But I'll say more about the rules (and the Friday shows that would make the list) at the bottom.

Comedy Seasons
Drama Seasons
New Scripted Shows

Top 10 of the Last 10, Reach Renewals A18-49+ A18-49
Image 10. Happy Endings (ABC, 2010-11) 69 1.74
ABC bravely chose this show over better-scheduled Mr. Sunshine (yay.) (86) and Better with You (82), and it appeared to pay off early in season two as it soared with the Modern Family lead-in. But it faded fast late in the season, and an even worse-scheduled season three was the end.
Image 9. 30 Rock (NBC, 2006-07) 69 2.57
Though this was always a "hype is bigger than ratings" lightning rod, 30 Rock actually became a fairly respectable player after it joined up with other acclaimed comedies on NBC Thursday. It made it an impressive seven seasons, only getting this weak again in the last couple.
Image 8. Arrested Development (Fox, 2003-04) 68 2.78
Like the above two, Arrested Development mostly rode buzz rather than ratings into a second season. But it couldn't take the 30 Rock-esque step forward, basically only maintaining its ratings with a much better The Simpsons lead-in. It got a third season, then a fourth years later on Netflix.
Image 7. NCIS (CBS, 2003-04) 67 2.72
NCIS started with just a 2.6 demo, but it gradually grew into the low 3's by the middle of season one. That gradual growth became the norm for the show year after year, and somehow eight years later it had become broadcast TV's #1 drama.
Image 6. Notes from the Underbelly (ABC, 2006-07) 66 2.48
This is the first of several examples of ABC's pre-Modern Family comedy desperation. ABC gave this show another whirl after it grew several times from According to Jim. It showed little promise after Samantha Who? and completely fell apart after Dancing with the Stars spin-off Dance War.
Image 5. Friday Night Lights (NBC, 2006-07) 61 2.30
FNL was another show pushed through to season two by critical acclaim, but after showing little pulse in season two, it was a financing arrangement by DirecTV that got the show a whooping three additional seasons.
Image 4. Hannibal (NBC, 2012-13) 60 1.19
This show was one of the first foreign co-productions that found a truly significant amount of critical praise, and that rare combination made a second season viable. But don't expect season two to see a high-profile timeslot.
Image 3. Better Off Ted (ABC, 2008-09) 59 1.76
In its last pre-Modern Family season, ABC combined this show with NBC import Scrubs, then decided to ride out that combo (beefing up the Scrubs syndie package) for one more year, as Ted had not-completely-awful retention. It got even worse in season two, as Ted had to battle to even hit a 1.0 and never aired its last two eps.
Image 2. Jake in Progress (ABC, 2004-05) 58 2.35
It's hard to imagine why ABC would need this show considering how much new show gold they struck in 2004-05, but they decided to un-cancel it, retool it, and pair it with newbie Emliy's Reasons Why Not. Both aired just one episode in early 2006 before vanishing forever.
Image 1. Tru Calling (Fox, 2003-04) 45 1.84
Before there was Dollhouse, there was an even bigger Eliza Dushku-led reach renewal, with raw numbers that occasionally still get shows axed nine years later! It was hard for ABC and Fox to figure out what to do on Thursday during the Friends/Survivor/CSI days, and this time Fox just decided to take a flier. It didn't work.

Notes: OK, so those rules to come up with this list:
1) No Friday shows. Among those that would be on the list without the Friday exception: Joan of Arcadia (65), Grimm (65) and Blue Bloods (70), none of which were really "reaches" by Friday standards. Dollhouse (49) was the only really good example of a big Friday reach.
2) These averages include only regular season airings. I did this just to try to give a sense of what the shows looked like when they got renewed. Several of these shows (but most notably Hannibal and Better Off Ted) aired the tail end of season one after the regular season to even lower ratings.
3) Maybe kind of redundant with #2, but no summer-only shows. Flashpoint (58) and Rookie Blue (56) weren't really all that reach-y by summer standards.

There are a few notable near-misses here.
  • Old-skewing Harry's Law (71) was #11, then dropped so big in season two (45) that it found itself at the center of the total viewers vs. demographic "debate." 
  • Another "un-cancellation" of note: CBS' off-brand drama Jericho (72), which was actually the first show of the 2006-07 season to score a back nine before getting axed. The save-our-show campaign worked, but it couldn't pick up any steam in a shortened season two (61).
  • The latest flagship for the "cancellation-worthy ratings that went on to success, so every network should renew everything ever" narrative was The Office (73), which would've gotten on the list pretty easily if not for its Apprentice-inflated premiere. 
  • Before the Hannibal renewal, it looked quite possible the awful 2012-13 season would somehow not place a single show on this list, but The Mindy Project (74) was fairly close.
2013-14 Update: The axe was wielded much more than usual this year, and no newbie renewal came even close to making this list. The closest thing to a renewal reach was Brooklyn Nine-Nine (80), and even it was 11 points higher than the shows at the bottom of this list: Happy Endings and 30 Rock (69 each).

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