Monday, February 10, 2014

ABC True Power Rankings, February 2014

As the Olympics hiatus hits, it's time for this season's second 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 February 2.

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

ABC ComediesTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Elite
1Modern Family3.633.4045%-21%4
2The Middle2.122.0834%-11%4

So far, there's no real sign of any syndication heat for the comedies' first-run ratings. But if the last pre-Olympics points were any indication, we may see it in a more subtle form: holding up better in the second half of the season against an ever-weakening American Idol. The February 5 eps of both Middle and Modern were only barely down year-to-year (-4% and -5% respectively).

ABC ComediesTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Actual Middle
3Last Man Standing1.621.4027%-9%5
4The Goldbergs1.571.6042%5

Don't really see much of a way The Goldbergs or Last Man Standing gets cancelled. Right now The Goldbergs warrants renewal on the surface, but even if it gets a little weaker in the spring I think there'd be "face-saving" motivations that would keep it around. In Last Man Standing's case, I would point out the fact that the ABC regime really seems to dislike multi-cams, but Last Man has been enough of a ratings win this season - taking a league average drop or less with a terrible 8:30 partner - that ABC's got to stick with it.

Suburgatory is the only comedy in any reasonable doubt. So far this season, it's just been kind of there. It's done probably a tick or so better than Back in the Game would have against Idol, but we're clearly well past the heat it had in its early days. With no strong ratings case either way, this feels like it will come almost completely down to how many comedy hours ABC has next fall. If they have enough newbies to trot out four again, then having just four returnees is spreading oneself too thin. I'd without a doubt want Suburgatory in that midseason backup role again. However, if they go down to just three hours... two-thirds of the slots would be pretty much locked up. I'd rather spend the money on those last two half hours to cycle through options with actual upside. I'm probably completely wrong, but the way I see it... Suburgatory is in the somewhat odd position of rooting for ABC to have good comedy development.

ABC ComediesTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
Paul Lee's Picks
6Back in the Game1.341.5835%4
7Super Fun Night1.291.5444%5
8The Neighbors1.100.9229%-51%5
9Trophy Wife1.091.0840%5

This is several months removed from being relevant, but I want to throw out this little methodological point anyway: if you really believe lead-in dynamics have no impact on how these decisions get made, then Super Fun Night should be very much in the mix. (Certainly as late as its 1.7 on January 22.) It could very well end up with a higher ratings average than its network as a whole for the season. You might end up getting away with it because you can throw out your whole process whenever there's a scheduling tea leaf to be read (like SFN's short extension), but just keep this in mind for before those leaves come out. There was no way SFN had a meaningful lead on Last Man and The Goldbergs the week before the announcement. It was definitely no more than a toss-up by week three.

The biggest notable out of those November announcements was the back nine for Trophy Wife (and nothing for Back in the Game). This was always a ratings reach. I would say that they probably put way too much stock in the 1.4 it pulled on 10/29 on a repeat SHIELD night, but it's probably more like it just gave them justification for what they really wanted to do based on the positive buzz around TW. Since they did it once, might they make the same kind of reach for a second season? I wasn't as quick to dismiss the possibility as some back in November. But now, it'd be an even bigger reach. Not only has the show become an even weaker original performer by a few ticks, but all indications are that it's not just a bad timeslot. It managed just a 0.9 in its Wednesday repeat tryout, while The Goldbergs got 1.2 in each of its shots there. (TW's episode was on Christmas night, to be fair, but the NBA leading into the lineup meant it got the same size lead-in from The Middle as The Goldbergs did.) There's clearly a large gap in strength here.

Something to keep an eye on: I assumed that Suburgatory's premiere date would enable its episode count to completely sync up with what The Middle had (13 Suburgatory + episodes 11-23 of The Middle). But the network has already run one original Suburgs after a repeat Middle. Maybe Middle has 24 eps this year and this will be the only case of that, but there's also the possibility ABC could be setting up Suburgatory to end a little early. So it's still not impossible they could try one of the Tuesday shows here at the end of the season.

ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Power Block
2Grey's Anatomy2.752.5540%-17%4

For all the "ABC is the new NBC" talk during the fall and all the developmental disasters, the funny thing is that for most of the fall, ABC's original average A18-49+ was the same (or even a tick higher) than in fall 2012. It wasn't the sexiest kind of story in a world where we always hone in on new shows, but the growth/hold of stuff like Scandal, Shark Tank, Dancing and Castle deserved a lot of the credit for keeping the network's superficial numbers somewhat competitive.

That has changed in the winter with Scandal and Grey's (and Once Upon a Time) off the air completely. Now ABC's a tick behind its early 2013 pace (91 vs. 92) and falling. You're missed, guys! Still, once the network is back at full strength, the story will probably end up being that ABC is not much unhealthier than last year, in spite of a developmental disaster.

ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Safe Second Tier
3Agents of SHIELD2.232.2844%4
5Once Upon a Time1.951.9539%-32%4

Moving past the "huge disappointment" narrative that was so inevitable with SHIELD, the show is going to be here next season. Anything else would require it to move down another several pegs, and that seems unlikely since it's been at about this same level for the last seven episodes or so. The real question with SHIELD is whether ABC will try to "build around it" with a compatible drama next season, or if The Goldbergs was enough of a win to keep a Tuesday hour in the comedy realm. This may end up being just as important to the three-hour/four-hour comedy conundrum as the state of the comedy development.

ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Serially Marginal Serials

I'm not a believer in syndication assuring renewal for serialized shows, but the colossal failure of everything in the next division means Revenge probably isn't even going to need that kind of help. The show carried itself rather nicely through its January run, not even dropping to a new season low despite airing against big events (Golden Globes/NFC Championship) and with terrible lead-ins. I believe it solidified itself as at least a slightly stronger ratings player over Nashville with these episodes. So at this point, it's going to need some crazy stuff to happen to get back in trouble: namely, it'll have to collapse big-time in its move to 10/9c, and Resurrection will have to do noticeably better than Revenge's fall numbers. Since the two shows will be somewhat co-dependent, both of those things happening seems unlikely.

Nashville is the second (and final!) ABC scripted show with any kind of renewal doubt at this juncture. Forget about syndication getting it to 88. Nobody's airing this thing five nights a week. It has a Hulu Plus deal, and some country music cable network will probably take a stab at it (at a low price) in cable syndication. Those things can happen with or without a certain number of episodes. If Suburgatory could air two full seasons and then get renewed for a short third, surely it can happen with Nashville. And this kind of show may benefit from a shorter season creatively.

The real issue that could save Nashville is just how many bombs ABC is lobbing out of its drama department. If ABC is regularly going to be in this 2013-14 kind of situation, with one respectable new drama and another five to seven that can't even really justify staying on the air for a month, then Nashville is a way better option than the seventh mega-bomb. The other networks have been able to generate shows that may not get renewed but are at least respectable enough to play out the string (shows like Dads). But ABC is bombing much harder and at an alarmingly high rate these days. Body of Proof, it turns out, would've been beneficial this year, in spite of what I thought about its raw "merit" last year. I'm generally not a fan of running a network in such a scared fashion, and that's why I was against renewing Body of Proof last year. But at the current success rate or lack thereof, maybe they should be more prudent and have this as a backup option. (Also, for what it's worth, I think Nashville has at least as much "merit" as Proof last year, maybe even a bit more.)

ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
Paul Lee's Picks
8Once Upon a Time in Wonderland0.940.8733%3
10Killer Women0.850.7026%1
11The Assets0.800.6025%1
12Lucky 70.720.7036%1

I got nothin'.

ABC UnscriptedTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
1Shark Tank2.432.0835%+5%5
2The Bachelor2.212.4038%+0%2
3Dancing with the Stars Fall2.001.9520%-7%4
5The Great Christmas Light Fight1.351.3032%1
6America's Funniest Home Videos1.331.4027%-10%5
7The Taste1.141.1035%-34%2

Shark Tank now seems almost a lock to become the new biggest Friday show in 11 years of A18-49+. The more dramatic race will be whether it can actually pull off the amazing feat of finishing at or above the league average (or a 100 A18-49+). Even that may not be that dramatic by the end of the season; it's at a 99 if the season ended today, and its recent episodes have regularly exceeded the league average for that week. It'd probably have to immediately drop into the 1.7-1.8 range to fall back behind that pace.

What was ABC expecting out of its winter Thursday lineup of The Taste and The Assets? I'm not sure why, but it's clear they were expecting something more than what they got out of The Assets, as it left the sked after just two episodes. Has stronger The Taste done enough to return in this kind of role next year? I felt before the season that it probably needed to average low 1's. The 1.3's in its first couple weeks seemed OK, but it's been at more like a 1.0 since American Idol came back. I don't know that they could reasonably do much better than this with some other cheap filler. If I had to guess right now, I'd say they'll try something else next season, but it's close.


Spot said...

Every season of The Middle has had 24 episodes, so I think that'll end up being the case this year. Which brings up the larger point I have about ABC: it's currently the most opaque network of the broadcasters. You can guess at the logic of their scheduling decisions (The Goldbergs followed SHIELD because of the big-tent they thought the drama would bring; Super Fun Night's skew would fit best with Modern Family; the isolated upswing point of Trophy Wife brought it the full-season pick-up), but that's all it is: a guess. The end result is the network just being Paul Lee's vanity project in what he (probably) likes, and right now Lee is trying to rival how poorly Jeff Zucker ran NBC. He may just renew Nashville if he's still in charge come the Upfronts just so he can have a scripted show of "his" make it to a third season.

In spite of that, ABC is roughly trending water on a Plus-basis? Amazing.

Spot said...

100% agreed about "face-saving motivations" for The Goldbergs renewal, especially as Lee's words at TCA were completely in line with that. Thus, despite by ratings it being nothing more than a bubble show, we probably should count it in as renewed.

Last Man Standing will be at 64+ episodes + solid ratings for Friday = can't see it cancelled. It means Friday comedy block remaining on schedule. That, and having in mind ratings of their dramas and unscripted shows aren't exactly setting world on fire, there's no reason for ABC to cut down comedy hours. In turn, it means I'm 90% sure Suburgatory is going to be renewed. Maybe again for 13 episodes and for bench role only, perhaps after some tough negotiations with Warner Bros, but likely renewed.

Nashville, not so. I don't see it completely dead, but I'm giving it only 10% chances. it's 7th on dramas totem pole, but will not at be 22 episodes from syndication as Revenge is. If Paul Lee wants to save his ass, he better be bullish on pilots, and not on middling shows that might drop down to 1.0 ratings next fall. It was 6 returning and 4 new dramas last fall, I reckon same to happen next season.

Spot said...

You say Suburgatory needs good comedy development, I say (a bit less counterintuitively) it needs bad drama development! That's something that could keep sitcom hour four alive - and with ABC's record, I think it's tremendously possible.

Revenge has probably done enough to not really be an interesting case study of the merits of syndication - which is oddly a shame, I morbidly wanted it to plunge to see what ABC would do with it. Nashville is in a different economic situation again - nobody's airing it five times a week, but it's got the music sales going for it as well as Hulu and a defined cable syndication niche.

Being plugged into fall for sure are the Shonda power block, Once, SHIELD, The Middle/lead-out, MF/lead-out, LMS/lead-out, Castle and the Monday reality wheel, Shark Tank, 20/20, AHV. That's thirteen hours locked down on the Sunday-Friday schedule. Revenge surely comes back, and I see three new dramas in the Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday zero hours. That leaves room for one comedy block (which would be Goldbergs/newbie) and one drama (Nashville or a newbie). I'd take the comedy block and Nashville over newbie #4, but possibly not over a new reality show...

Spot said...

Thanks. For some reason I saw the number 23 on last year's The Middle and it didn't register that one of 'em was a double episode. So that was probably a pointless comment. :-P

Spot said...

Flat is the new up, they say. Well, down less than league average is the new flat, I guess. That article you posted was right. FOX seemingly gets no heat from the press, even though they're probably going to blow up their fall schedule for the third time in five years.

ABC is getting attention for the same reason NBC is: huge bombs. Five dunzo dramas averaging below a 1? Red Widow was the bottom-feeder last May at .85, and it was a constant joke about how DOA it was. The sad part is, that number would beat everything except Wonderland on the current dunzo list.

BoP would have been a decent choice if they were insisting on NEW DRAMA/NEW COMEDY/NEW COMEDY on Tuesday. Asking two new dramas to self-start and bookend the night was just too much.

Spot said...

Some dispersed thoughts:
- on comedies, LMS really is growing to be a stronger show. Its numbers look very impressive this year and I somehow think that your TRUE numbers are not even that kind to Friday shows, so its position on the ranking is very legit IMO. Other than that, I wish Suburgatory was doing a bit better but I will be surprised if it's cancelled. At least now it should not have to air more episodes out of repeats, which should help. I think it will go to Fridays 8h30 unless they are willing to launch something new there which I somehow doubt. I also don't think that ABC has the depth to get rid of the Tuesday comedy block next year so I would keep the Goldbergs there but move the whole thing to 8pm away from new girl, with whom it clearly has an audience overlap. I would be fine if they did The Goldbergs+New thing, MF+New Thing, LMS+New Thing and kept the Middle+Suburgatory pairing. I don't think they are too concerned about having a bomb on the schedule seeing how they left Trophy Wife on the entire year when they didn't have to, so I would just use Suburgatory the entire season instead, which would effectively assure a ridiculously cheap price for a Season 5 from WB. Also, major kuddos to your True metric for placing Super Fun Night on the right tier.
- on dramas, even though the situation is somehow better than last year, I still think Sunday shows are not valued as much as they should. It's almost as if the metric thinks Sunday is the easiest day when, in my opinion, it is the hardest (apart from some particular spots here and there during midweek). So I think Revenge is deflated there as I believe it's clearly a much stronger show than Nashville (as seen by the fact that it is able to pull a 1.8 without abnormal competition even out of a very weak, albeit compatible lead-in) whereas Nashville pulls sub 1.5 levels with normal competition (Even though it has an incompatible, albeit not horribly rated, lead-in). So I think Revenge would be more close to the second tier than you give it credit for and I also think OUAT should be a bit higher. The biggest head-scratcher for me is how little credit you give Shield though. It goes head-to-head with the biggest drama on TV, with whom it clearly shares an audience (see its bounces when NCIS is a repeat), with local programming as lead-in and survives to tell the story at a still quite respectable number. Why doesn't TRUE value it more? And it's not like NBC is incompetent in that hour either. Regarding Nasvhille, it comes down to how many hours do they want to premiere. I would renew it until it hits syndication to be honest because they just have too many sub 1 shows right now. Unless they have a stellar development (and the notion of what is stellar is very problematic considering it's Paul Lee making that call), I would keep it if it doesn't drop further in the Spring. I think that if ABC gives it a lead-in that it's a bit more compatible, they can likely survive on the 1.5 level fine enough.
- as for The Taste, I think they should keep as it can always come in handy for a network with so little problems airings repeats.

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