Thursday, October 31, 2013

ABC True Power Rankings, October 2013

As November sweeps kicks off, it's time for this season's first full edition of the True Power Rankings! I line up every entertainment program in broadcast primetime by network/category using my timeslot metric True, offering some thoughts on the ratings strength of the shows. As on the Weekly True Power Rankings, these True and A18-49 numbers are averages of the last third of the season's episodes to date rounded up, which weeds out inflated early episodes that don't really matter anymore. This year, I'm also including the year-to-year trend for the season to date and the "skew" (or percent of the total audience within the 18-49 demo). The number of episodes in the average is listed under "Counted Eps." These numbers are all through October 27.

Other October True Power Rankings: ABC | CBS | NBC | Fox | CW

ABC ComediesTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Elite
1Modern Family3.754.0047%-18%2
2The Middle2.222.2035%-8%2

For a long time, we've been able to say that ABC has developed two long-term solid comedies in the last decade-plus, and both amazingly came out of the same fall 2009 class. And at least for now, that doesn't seem to be changing with...

ABC ComediesTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Actual Middle
3Super Fun Night1.542.1047%2
4Back in the Game1.501.8036%2
5Last Man Standing1.421.2527%-18%2
6The Goldbergs1.381.6543%2

...this bunch.

As I said yesterday, I believe ABC has just been searching for some reason to get behind any of these underwhelming shows. While people may be overreacting a bit to The Goldbergs' steadiness after a SHIELD repeat this week (not included in the numbers above), the bottom line is that it's competing against an extremely weak bunch of competitors, so that kind of showing looks much better by comparison. I say it would be a surprise if The Goldbergs doesn't have more episodes ordered by this time next week.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in ABC comedy land is the race for the post-Modern Family slot at midseason. Unless they're dumb enough to put Mixology in the slot or give it back to Suburgatory, it probably comes down to the new comedies. Super Fun Night seems relatively "compatible" in terms of the skew numbers, and it has the inertia advantage, but does ABC really want to get behind yet another low-2's offering that would probably collapse elsewhere? Last night's results certainly put the compatibility of SHIELD and comedies into some question, so the Tuesday comedies may be legitimately in the discussion for a Wednesday move now.

By the way, a quick note on Back in the Game: as the gap with The Middle gradually widens, it feels like the tide is turning against this one, even though it's certainly enough a part of the pack that it could get an episode extension. ABC has always tended to "follow the buzz" in these marginal situations, and Back in the Game is a buzz-less, DVR viewing-less show. Another important thing to note is that it's probably the easiest show to replace, as this has always felt like Suburgatory's "best" timeslot.

ABC ComediesTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Dunzo...?
7Trophy Wife1.181.2540%2
8The Neighbors1.060.9531%-54%2

These shows seemed like the weak links from the very beginning, but it's been fascinating to watch as the other new shows slowly got weaker and weaker since week two while Trophy Wife and The Neighbors held relatively steady. I thought last week's 1.2 might be the final nail in the coffin for Trophy Wife, but it went back up to 1.4 this week. I'd still label it the weak link among the newbies, but ABC has a bit of a history of making ratings reaches for shows with good buzz, and Trophy Wife probably has the best. So I'm not counting it out just yet.

ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Power Block
2Grey's Anatomy2.862.7542%-17%2

This isn't exactly Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy circa early 2006, but it's the closest thing we have right now. This combo's performance has people wanting ABC to use the shows "better." It could involve moving one to another night, or it could involve shifting both down an hour and launching something new at 10/9c. It seems very possible one of those could happen at some point, but will it happen within this season? There are two big factors here, both pulling me in opposite directions.

1) Are any of the midseason dramas good bets to succeed after these shows? I'm fairly skeptical about that. I guess I'd go with Killer Women as the least bad bet. But it's not like ABC is overflowing with better options. Scandal and/or Grey's would certainly provide more lead-in juice than almost anything else the network could offer.

And 2) How long will Scandal stay hot? I don't want to overreact to the big drop last week, and I think the show has actually showed some patience creatively (it still hasn't even gotten into its fictional election season), but I still think a show built on this kind of crazy is not going to have the kind of long-term resiliency that Grey's Anatomy has shown. Even waiting until next fall to use Scandal "better" carries some risk. Part of me says to strike while the iron is hot.

ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Second Tier
3Agents of SHIELD2.582.7547%2
4Once Upon a Time2.072.1539%-30%2

The "What's wrong with Agents of SHIELD?" narrative was perhaps the most inevitable TV media storyline this season, and we haven't even waited until it dropped into remotely shaky ratings territory! The massive premiere rating was a bad thing for the media outlook on this show, as there was probably never any real chance it could hold anywhere near the 4.7. Still, while the bleeding has been very slow the last couple weeks, it hasn't actually had an episode that was steady/up, so we're not yet quite sure what it's gonna be over the long term.

ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Bubble

How much trouble are Nashville and/or Revenge in? I'm guessing they would eke out renewals if the season ended right now, but there's really not a lot to discuss here until the midseason dramas enter the mix and these shows return from hiatus. I'll just offer a couple quick things.
  • You could definitely argue both are undercounted by True, as both are in very tough timeslots in terms of cable competition (which is kind of the number's blind spot). Nashville is in the Duck Dynasty/American Horror Story slot, while Revenge of course must deal with The Walking Dead. However, you would have to do some major fanwanking to get either show anywhere near the second tier; the best you can say is that they're likely a bit stronger than the bubble comedies.
  • I'm not buying that syndication will help Revenge much/at all. Who is really gonna pay any significant amount to air this show five nights a week? It's low-rated and it's the worst kind of show for repeats/syndication. This could become another one of those really interesting tests of the syndication dogma. But I believe Revenge is probably going to need to be able to make a ratings case to get renewed.
ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Dunzo
8Once Upon a Time in Wonderland1.201.1034%1
10Lucky 70.720.7036%1

Wonderland is technically not really that far from being on the next tier, but I don't see much reason to expect it to rebound, so...

ABC UnscriptedTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
1Shark Tank2.442.0035%+9%2
2Dancing with the Stars2.062.0521%-1%2
4America's Funniest Home Videos1.241.4028%-12%1

Shark Tank has a chance to become the biggest Friday show in A18-49+ history, although the +9% y2y will probably not sustain. It's about to start getting compared with what was really its peak period last year (when it was airing after a still-big Malibu Country).

Even though it remains abundantly clear that the show would do better away from The Voice, it's still worth giving Dancing with the Stars some credit for managing to pretty much stabilize this season. As I said at the upfront, dropping the results show was a "big" move, but it felt more like a punishment than an actual good piece of strategy. I can guarantee they'd rather have had DWTS results over Lucky 7.


Spot said...

ABC has shown that it can be incredibly tone-deaf in scheduling. That's why I can easily envision Mixology getting the post-MF in the Spring after SFN ends its season early with a short episode extension. And it kind of has to happen because where else could Mixology land? Unless ABC wants to throw sitcoms against The Big Bang Theory, I can't picture another timeslot.

If ABC were to go radical at midseason with scheduling and bump Grey's and Scandal down an hour, I'd use an existing drama rather than something new. Revenge or Nashville would be the best options, and a better way to give those shows another chance against a weak Elementary & Parenthood. Nashville would be the easier option since replacing Revenge means taking apart Sunday entirely, and Killer Women is probably being eyeballed for the post-Revenge slot on Sunday anyway.

Anyone else surprised that Dancing with the Stars & Castle are basically even year-to-year at this point?

Spot said...

We don't talk profitability as much as we "should" because, as you can see from reading your own post, trying to fill out a show balance sheet step-by-step carries with it a long line of HUGE assumptions, many of which could massively shift the picture if off the mark at all. And many of these steps are likely more complicated than you make them... for example, in terms of ad revenue, there's also a large chunk of that time that's given from the network to local affiliate ads. The money generated for affiliates counts for something, but it's not like it goes straight onto the network/studio balance sheet. Until there is MUCH harder data available about production costs, license fees and ad revenues, I believe we are best served using ratings and supplementing with some generally accepted basic tenets (ex. "veteran shows are expensive," etc.) to try to get an idea of profitability.

Other than that, my main quibble is with #8... the idea that season four vastly enhances the value of the previous 66 episodes. Even if the idea is completely correct, it's still only true for shows that are going to get heavily stripped five nights a week. That can happen for sitcoms, but most middling serialized dramas (Chuck, Fringe, or perhaps closer Revenge comps like Ugly Betty/Brothers & Sisters) don't seem to get that kind of play.

Spot said...

Thanks for the answer.

Some comments:
- I agree with you that is is very hard to talk profitability because of how much is estimates and how much is unknown to us. Regardless, I still think that if you go for a worst case scenario like I did and the result is still relatively clear, that is a conclusion you can hold moving forward, wouldn't you think?
- I didn't know that affiliate thing you were talking about, but again, that is something that will only strengthen my argument in this case, because it will mean that even a smaller percentage of the overall profit depends on the ratings and, by consequence, a bigger percentage depends on syndication, hence favoring Revenge once again. Unless I am interpreting wrong what you've said.
- I can't comment on this because I don't have examples to back me up with numbers. But for instance, I find it very hard to believe that there was any other form of financial incentive for WB to lower the license fee of Fringe for season 4 and season 5 so much that it wasn't the fact that syndication would become insanely more profitable. How else would you explain it? To be honest, I thought I was even being pessimistic, as in,the 88 vs 66 episode difference is likely more than double, because it is the difference between airing a show more than once a week or once a week only. That seems to me like something well worth it. But I guess we have to agree to disagree here.
- However, even if we disagree on this, I don't see how you can claim that Revenge could be in worst shape than Nashville even if syndication is worth even less than I was assuming... I also don't see how you can think that ABC could do away with both since it will already have to replace 3 failed dramas, plus at least 1 full of comedies. I already think it is hard enough to replace all these plus one out of Nashville/Revenge. I don't see any scenario in which they can replace both unless they have an incredible success with midseason dramas, which given their likely schedule is a very long shot

Spot said...

Now, more in general:

Comedies: I agree with the division even though I would take LMS out of there and bump it with the first group when it comes to renewal prospects. A 1.3 on friday is pretty decent when the weekday comedies are getting 1.7s on their first years and the fact that it is nearing syndication kind of seals it for me. Other than that, it is a tossup between Back in the Game and The Goldbergs. I am surprised that TRUE doesn't recognise how much fiercer The Goldberg's competition is. I mean, it faces the voice and fox comedies, which is certainly harder and more compatible than x-factor and revolution I would say. I am not sure how invested they are in Trophy Wife but a note about ABC is how much they seem to prefer own-produced comedies (Happy Endings vs. Better With You and Mr. Sunshine or The Neighbors vs. How to Live) and TW is the only one they own. I think the ratings differential is too big right now for that to matter but it may prompt them to try it after MF and if that happens, it's all fair game. I agree with you that it looked like TN was dead earlier in the season, but right now I dunno. It could held up better than the weekday comedies and scratch another season.

Dramas: We disagree on Revenge a lot, but I think we've covered that already lol. Other than that, I would bump OUAT to the first group as well in terms of renewal prospects. Regardless, I think ABC should stop this madness and take dramas away from sundays period. Just do Greys/Scandal/Revenge on Thursdays and Shield/OUAT/Ressurection Tuesdays.

General note: What do you think will happen with ABC in winter? I am very curious about this and I don't see a lot of conversation surrounding it. They will be done with Betrayal and Wonderland after their orders for sure. In the meantime, Scandal, Nashville, Greys, Revenge and OUAT all have scheduled hiatuses. This means they will have 8 open timeslots (counting Tuesdays at 10) come winter! What will they put there?! They have 3 midseason dramas but I doubt they are willing to premiere them before march due to the olympics. I know they have the taste, the quest, probably wife swap and wipeout if they need it... but that's about it. What's your guess as to what will go the remaining 5 timeslots during that period? They can only re-run shark tank so much! And remember that even agents of shield and the comedies need to have re-runs at some point! I think ABC in winter is shaping up to look a bit like NBC in winter last year!

Spot said...

My instinct says that ABC is going to plug Sundays with The Taste and Wife Swap and perhaps a SHIELD, Castle, or Shark Tank rerun to keep it a low-cost night against the awards shows, football play-off games, and the Olympics. The Bachelor takes over Mondays as usual. If ABC's strategy doesn't change from its press release, The Quest is taking over for Wonderland in January. As for Tuesday and Wednesday at 10:00 I'd go with Mind Games and The Assets, respectively, since the latter is billed as a miniseries. No clue what to do about Thursdays, so ABC may just keep Grey's Anatomy and Scandal repeats skedded there (maybe they swap time slots?).

Will January and February be bad for ABC? No question since its the only network without an Event (the Academy Awards are in March this season). But one thing ABC typically does well is ordering lots of back-up shows so it has some scheduling flexibility. And the entertainment press will write over ABC's problems as being due to the Olympics and instead focus on how American Idol does with Jennifer Lopez back. I'd actually prefer ABC to go as dormant as possible in February so it can have an almost rerun-free Spring.

Spot said...

Sound strategy there. I wasn't aware of The Assets, that's why I didn't include it. However, I doubt they can use Mind Games during the winter hiatus because they will need it permanently on the tuesdays at 10 timeslot during spring, no? Premiering it in January and having it go against the olympics likely with repeats of flop comedies as lead-ins kind of guarantees lucky 7 numbers that will prevent it from getting to may sweeps alive. Maybe they just leave thursdays with repeats yeah, but that's not something very ABC' like I think. At this point, I think they should have even renewed splash to fill in for that period.

I also agree with you that entertainment press will be focused elsewhere and will attribute ABC's woes to the olympics, yes. I just can't help feel pessimistic about the whole thing I guess.

Spot said...

I think Fringe was somewhat mis-analyzed at the time (not sure TVBTN's "Friday factor" was quite big enough), and while I thought it was in cancellation territory by the end, it's also possible the decision had been basically made before things got really ugly in the last few weeks.

(By the way, there was a quote from Reilly during S4 about how they were looking for a big license fee reduction to make S5 possible, and I inferred from the way he said it that they hadn't really gotten one for S4. So I'm fairly sure it happened for the final season, but not so sure about S4.)

As for Nashville/Revenge, I think you are putting some words in my mouth! I do think they could get into trouble, but the spring will have to break well for ABC for that to happen. My whole point on the Revenge comment was that I don't see ABC reaching way down on the totem pole to make a renewal of Revenge if it has very clear cancel ratings. We disagree on that point, but there's a good chance the midseason stuff flops and it won't be in that scenario anyway. And I don't think Nashville has any real edge on Revenge.

Spot said...

Scheduling reruns for a 10:00 slot for 5 months is something that ABC just can't do: affiliates would howl and the other networks could try taking advantage of that situation. So ABC has to bite the bullet even if Tuesdays at 10:00 would be adrift with reruns as lead-ins. And even if Mind Games flops as hard as (Un)Lucky 7, they still have dramas like Killer Women (though that reads as a summer series to me) or could even go for a Super Fun Night/Mixology comedy block.

This is not to say that I think this will work well or at all. My point is how ABC has a lot of pieces to work with and that's a valuable thing.

Spot said...

Thanks for taking the time to answer once again.

Regarding Fringe, I guess we'll never really know. I understand your point about the decision being made too early and while I felt that was the case with some networks' early renewals in the past, I have trouble believing that networks would be so naive as to make early announcements (when they don't have to) instead of waiting if things were borderline. The way I see it, if the decision can change with some semi significant drops, then why would the networks make the decision earlier on? Anyway, I don't think we'll ever have an answer to this.

Regarding Revenge, I think I misinterpreted what you said, I am sorry for that and it seems that we majorly agree on the outcome after all this lol. We have to agree to disagree on the value of syndication - I a a big believer after all - but it seems that, since one way or the other we both see Revenge as renewed, it is hard to believe this will be the year where we have the true test for that.

Spot said...

Hm... I kind of disagree with ABC having a lot of pieces to work with.You mention Killer Women but I think that's needed for the Thursdays at 8 timeslot when The Quest is over, unless they just throw Wipeout there again. I think that this year, given the hiatus planned for all the shows, ABC doesn't have that many pieces to work with, even though it's still manageable, yes.

Regarding scheduling reruns for 10 for that long, I agree with you that it is probably not feasible, yes.

Spot said...

If ever a comedy block is going to work in the 10/9c hour it's got to be a slightly edgy hangout block. SFN/Mixology fits that (just as HE/Apt23 did before, only for some reason ABC gave it the direct DWTS lead-in and set up a three-comedy-block logjam - ABC really needed to audible out of that one last summer).

This would've been a fair bit easier if Big Thunder had been worth a series order, that would probably have made a very good SHIELD lead-out.

If DWTS can hang at a league average on Mondays, ABC can't really ask for more there. Yeah, Sundays are desperate, and by next season the Once/Revenge pair will look as blatantly a syndication quarantine as CBS's weekends, but maybe that's OK. Sundays are essentially impossible for ABC now. All they can do is throw moderate female-skewing counterprogramming against the male-skewing Sunday competition, ride it out, and fight battles they can actually win on weeknights. (This goes doubly so for CBS, although next year I can see them going TAR/Survivor/CSI - making Sunday look relevant, but actually existing for the purpose of opening up a major attack on Wednesdays.)

Spot said...

Well, Back in the Game got red-lettered, while Trophy Wife (!) and The Goldbergs got the back 9. I can't help but think that TG and TW doing well after the SHIELD repeat, while BitG has not done as well compared to its lead-in or (especially) lead-out. I'm surprised that they didn't try to put it on Friday with Last Man Standing, since they have similar father-figures. Maybe it would have done better in the spring and summer.

Spot said...

I agree a lot with the Big Thunder comment. I don't see, at all, how that one could not be worth a series order and stuff like Lucky 7 and Betrayal could, but I guess we have to accept it.

I also agree partially on the CBS comment. I think Wednesdays will always look good for an attack and I actually like that Sunday planning a lot, but that would require the other weekdays being stable. Monday and Thursdays are way too problematic for them to mess with Wednesdays. I think we as fantasy schedulers will always aim to attack Wednesdays but with Monday and Thursdays yet to stabilize, I cannot honestly recommend them to do so. I thought last year it would have been a good idea to do a POI/Intelligence/Criminal Minds block with CSI to Sundays or Fridays but they went in another direction and I don't entirely blame them for that one. Besides, taking two shows out of Wednesday at once sounds very unCBS like I would say.

Spot said...

Yeah, it'd be a very nice (though slightly out of character as or CBS as you said) move if they had the comedies sorted.

By their lofty standards (let's not forget even WAM was Truly in the same territory as the ABC bubble) they don't. Do they leave Wednesday alone yet again to fix the comedies? I'm not sure. We'll see if the singing shows are leaving the night first. At this point I'm guessing XF goes, AI stays, and Fox audible out of the summer plan for 24:LAD and put it on fall Wednesdays.

Spot said...

I had never considered the possibility of FOX leaving the 24/Gang Related Mondays Summer Plan for Wednesdays next season instead, but it is a decent plan actually, even though I like how committed they seem to be about year round programming.

As for your question, I can see them trying one new thing on Wednesday, not both. I think they are not crazy enough to ship already borderline Elementary to Sunday or Friday so I think they will need one of CSI or Survivor to make room for the second drama debut in a midweek day. This being said, if Intelligence makes it, all bets are off because they will need a lot of room that I am not sure where they would get. I think that if Intelligence makes it it could actually be that the comedies are the ones to suffer and they slim down an hour again, because I think it's unlikely they ship two veterans (Elementary, CSI, Survivor) to Sunday/Friday in the same year while axing two veterans (I don't think they would move POI again so soon).

Spot said...

I agree that an Intelligence S2 pickup would mean comedy contraction. No idea which 9pm hour would go though.

Spot said...

I don't know either. Monday is kind of the obvious answer because they have TBBT on Thursdays and HIMYM is ending but it's hard to tell.

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