Monday, April 28, 2014

ABC True Power Rankings, May 2014

The upfront extravaganza is finally here! Every weekday for the next three weeks, this blog will have a meaty piece of coverage surrounding the annual schedule releases. It starts this week with the season's final edition of the True Power Rankings, the SHOW-centric half of the upfront preview, digging deep into the merits of individual shows by network. Next week come the Upfront Questions, the SCHEDULE-centric look ahead to upfront week. (Save your mock schedules for next week!) The following week, the schedules come out, and with them come the Upfront Answers.

The True/A18-49 averages cover the last one-third of aired episodes this season, rounded up, through April 20.

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

ABC ComediesTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Elite
1Modern Family3.783.3845%-18%6
2The Middle2.131.9534%-10%6

There's always so little to say about these guys! They're still strong and they're going to retain their timeslots next season. Period. Neither of these shows got quite the help from syndication that I was hoping for, but both of them have been slowly chipping away at their year-to-year deficits since February. Are they doing better because of syndication, or because American Idol is so much less relevant? 

Modern Family is going to miss out on a third straight season as a megahit, but if it can average a 3.5ish the rest of the way, it could narrow that year-to-year deficit to -15%ish. And it seems quite possible The Middle will end up declining less than the league average.

ABC ComediesTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Actual Middle
3Last Man Standing1.781.3127%-11%7
5The Goldbergs1.581.5342%7

One of the ongoing struggles with the True formula is how much weight to put on collective spring declines. Many a show has declined somewhat in the second half of the season and yet gone up in True, suggesting it may need to be dialed back a bit. But Last Man Standing is a show for which the True uptick feels legitimate. I mean, it's gotten the same mix of 1.2's, 1.3's and 1.4's post-DST that it was getting in the fall, and those are simply better numbers now than they were six months ago. It's emerged more decisively as the #3 ABC comedy, and it should not be sweating a renewal.

The Goldbergs will get renewed, but it's still performing at a relatively modest level, with no real signs of momentum in the second half of the season. The best thing you can say about the show is that it has surprisingly little dependency on its Agents of SHIELD lead-in, and maybe it should not get as much compatibility credit as that portion of the formula suggests. If it had shown a little more heat, I'd suggest it become part of the Wednesday mix, but it could go either way now.

Meanwhile, Suburgatory is the one of these three that seems a legitimate question mark. I don't necessarily think that's an injustice in a vacuum, but it sure looks like one when you compare it to...

ABC ComediesTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The... Not Dunzo?
6Back in the Game1.341.5835%4
8Super Fun Night1.281.3744%6
9The Neighbors1.270.9530%-49%8
10Trophy Wife0.980.9039%7

...these alternatives.

This is going to be one heck of a test of the power of studio favoritism. I haven't done hard research on this, but it feels like studio considerations have usually only been a tiebreaker, not a justification for major ratings reaches. This would be well beyond tiebreaker, because it would be pretty crazy for Suburgatory to get the axe in favor of any of the three ABC Studios productions (Mixology, The Neighbors and Trophy Wife). In fact, I'd argue you should renew repeats of Suburgatory ahead of those three! Would any of them in originals even pull the 1.1 that Suburgatory repeats have been getting after Middle repeats? Maybe The Neighbors? I dunno.

But let's humor these rumors and say that ABC is going to make a studio-based reach. If they do, there's one show that ought to be well ahead of the other two: The Neighbors. It has the highest episode count in the can, it's the best fit for syndication, and it's the one already airing in the bad timeslot (the "bird in the hand," as I always say). Shepherding it to syndication wouldn't hurt the network that badly since it doesn't really seem to damage Shark Tank at 9/8c. Maybe it does damage ST and we just don't know it, but it feels hard to make the case that Shark Tank would be doing so much better since it's already easily the biggest Friday show in the A18-49+ era.

Is there a viable path to a Mixology renewal, as Deadline suggests? The show hasn't bombed as hard as it could have, especially given how horribly it premiered. If 1) ABC is absolutely hell-bent on renewing an ABC Studios show and 2) the crew behind The Neighbors have absolutely moved on to their new show in development, Mixology would probably be the next logical choice. But it's miles from syndication, it probably wouldn't do well in syndication anyway, it's not compatible with anything, and it doesn't have the fanbase groundswell of other hangout comedies that might suggest some ratings upside. So it's really hard to come up with a universe in which this is a smart renewal. If you're going to show blatant favoritism to the studio, you should at least do so with the expectation that it can pay off on the back end.

That leaves Trophy Wife, the show seemingly everyone on the Internet would want to be that studio-based reach. But as I said in February: if the back nine was a modest surprise, a season two would be even another order of magnitude beyond that. Trophy Wife has gotten even weaker since that back nine was awarded, and it's simply a much weaker show than anything else with which it's competing. It's my favorite show of these three, and as a fan I would like to have seen it get a chance after Modern Family, but it's not like The Goldbergs is some horrible pairing. And the rejection after that show has been pretty massive. It gets Neighbors raw numbers on a much higher-viewed night and with a bigger lead-in. Hell, even when Mixology has had a Goldbergs-sized lead-in (repeats of Modern Family), it's done a few ticks better than the Trophy Wife norm. If ABC were really going to make this happen, they should've tried to generate at least some glimmer of Nielsen hope in some other slot. With what they have now, I just don't see how they can do it.

ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Power Hours
2Grey's Anatomy3.002.5440%-14%7

Another smashing season of Scandal is in the books with no real signs of burn-out in sight. Still, as much as the affiliates and Jimmy Kimmel must love broadcast TV's #1 drama in the 10/9c hour, not utilizing it to lead into something else in primetime feels like a wasted opportunity. In a perfect world, Scandal would be on Thursday at 9/8c leading into new Shonda Rhimes/Viola Davis drama How to Get Away with Murder.

The problem is that Grey's Anatomy is still very much in the mix. Grey's is a declining franchise, but it's doing so at a much slower rate than I think most casual industry followers realize. It's still a legitimate hit series, and thus of tremendous value to ABC. That makes messing with Grey's a particularly high-stakes situation; you have to be worried about accelerating that decline and thus losing a large chunk of that tremendous value. Could it survive a move to another night? Would it hold up in a move to Thursday 8/7c? Is a tri-Shonda Thursday too much of one thing on the same night? There's no solution that I'm in love with. On a certain level, this is a good problem to have, but it's still a real problem. More on the Thursday possibilities next week!

ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Second Tier
3Agents of SHIELD2.312.0244%6
4Once Upon a Time2.242.1239%-24%6

The raw numbers have continued to inch down for Agents of SHIELD, so the "huge disappointment to ABC" narrative has persisted, but the True formula suggests this is still about the same show it was in roughly early November, maybe even a bit stronger than its early 2014 episodes. All indications are it's coming back, and I would think it's coming back to Tuesday. The question is what surrounds it.

Resurrection has taken on its own disappointment narrative, since it's declined in each of its five post-premiere episodes. But as with SHIELD, there's a pretty big gulf between "game-changer" and "cancellation-worthy," and Resurrection should end season one somewhere in that gulf. I mean, I put the over/under at 2.25 for the premiere and about half of the commenters went under, so I think ABC would still be pretty happy with low 2's for the back half of the run. It should come back in the fall after Once Upon a Time. I have some worry about all these "limited series" collapsing in season two (The Following isn't assuaging these fears), but give it the best chance by keeping the hiatus to a minimum. Even if it does collapse, at least for next fall it's got to be a better option than hurling another DOA new concept like Betrayal or Red Widow at the wall.

Does all this mean that the second-tier show with the best chance of switching nights is actually the one that's had the same timeslot for six seasons? A Castle move long seemed very possible. But once Dancing with the Stars began declining sharply, it felt like the window to move it had probably closed, and ABC would ride out the combo until it got weak enough to necessitate a major overhaul. And yet, things have improbably swung back in the other direction. Both seasons of DWTS picked up some Plus ground this season, and The Bachelor is pretty close to as strong as it's ever been on Monday. We may find ourselves back in a situation where Monday at 10/9c is a fertile ground for a newbie. Castle, as always, could fill any number of potential holes: Tuesday 10/9c, Wednesday 10/9c, Thursday 8/7c, Sunday 10/9c.

ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The So-So Serials

Does the True formula overrate the importance of lead-in (or just timeslot in general) for serialized dramas? Nashville's True score has risen late in the season as its lead-in has gotten even worse/less compatible. Many of Revenge's highest True scores came in January when it had comically terrible lead-ins and had to deal with event season. Now that Revenge has a good lead-in again, it's dropped back behind Nashville in the True scores. I can see why this is the case; they're doing nearly the same raw numbers, one after Mixology and one after Resurrection. But I don't know that I buy it. Nashville is perhaps inflated by having a worse timeslot in this comparison.

Because of this, I wouldn't be all that hesitant about using one of these shows as "spackle." While I think that term is often associated with more standalone shows, that definition seems a bit backwards because they're actually the shows that benefit more from good situations. I always thought it was weird to consider Body of Proof as some kind of versatile player, considering its story was really that it could do OK after Dancing with the Stars and was a nightmare elsewhere.

I think Nashville's relatively good spring hold and the long-term uncertainty around Resurrection means both these shows will get renewed. But it's not a lock, and either way, they're not strong shows. I'd rather only have one on the fall sked and put one in the reserve role. I don't know how much value there really is in getting Revenge to four full seasons, but since it's almost there I guess it's the more likely fall candidate.

ABC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
Paul Lee's Picks
9Once Upon a Time in Wonderland1.090.8833%5
10Killer Women0.970.6527%2
11Mind Games0.920.7038%2
13The Assets0.800.6025%1
14Lucky 70.720.7036%1

ABC UnscriptedTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
1The Bachelor2.692.7838%-7%4
2Shark Tank2.571.9134%+5%9
3Dancing with the Stars Spring2.432.2520%-2%2
4Dancing with the Stars Fall2.001.9520%-5%4
6America's Funniest Home Videos1.371.4027%-8%6
7The Great Christmas Light Fight1.351.3032%1
8The Taste1.050.9337%-31%3

Last season, it was considered a very real possibility that ABC could flip Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor, putting the stronger series in the regular season twice. It didn't happen; the only move was that ABC cut DWTS down to just one night. It's anyone's guess whether that actually made a difference for DWTS, but something sure did. The franchise has steadied the ship, and that's a big deal for ABC.

I still think ABC would be better off from a pure ratings points standpoint with DWTS in the winter and Bachelor in the fall/spring. But the situation has not really changed from last year; if anything, DWTS looks more favorable because it's not declining rapidly anymore. So if it didn't happen last year, I wouldn't expect it this year. Part of me wonders if ABC favors more regular season DWTS because it takes more viewers away from older-skewing CBS.

Similarly, the ship may have sailed on a Shark Tank move to another night. Like the DWTS/Bachelor flip, it's not impossible, but the circumstances were better last year. I liked the idea last year because it could help funnel some viewers into a totally unproven SHIELD, but at this point it wouldn't help SHIELD or whatever Shonda drama is on Thursday at 9/8c nearly as much as it helps 20/20. I also liked the idea last year because it seemed like ABC had enough potential comedy returnees to try a two-hour TGIF. This year, with less depth, it would be a bigger stretch to put together. (Last year, their sixth and seventh comedies were the cancelled How to Live and Malibu Country; their sixth and seventh options this year will not be so strong.) A Friday without Shark Tank would take a huge step backward from their top Friday lineup this season, and Shark Tank's presence on a weeknight would be very hard-pressed to make up for those losses.


Spot said...

If ABC wanted Trophy Wife to be in the mix for a season 2, then I have to think they would have given it the post-Modern Family slot this spring instead of Mixology. Even if there were some huge awards buzz around the show I'd cancel it. Mixology and Super Fun Night continue to represent ABC's desire to have the next big hangout comedy; it's clear that the network wants some variation of New Girl, HIMYM, or The Big Bang Theory in its lineup (I include New Girl for its 18-34 power), and maybe if ABC owned Happy Endings we'd be arguing if it gets a 5th season right now. But neither of these shows are going to be it. Meanwhile, I'm still mystified that Back in the Game didn't get a Friday tryout. Yes, it looks stronger because it didn't have to fight a decline against the Olympics (Super Fun Night) or a post-DST landscape, but there's no way it could have done worse than The Neighbors. And what cable nets and affiliate stations are going to buy The Neighbors for syndie? Is it going to make the dream pairing that 'Til Death was waiting for? Bottom line: I don't see any of the not-so-dunzo sitcoms getting another season.

By far, ABC's biggest question to me is how they treat their power hours. Scandal is going to anchor a night next season, but we peanuts in the gallery are certainly going to have fun debating what hour and what show (and maybe even what night). Scandal's eventual move will be high-profile but others could be just as meaningful. SHIELD needs to get away from NCIS and The Voice, and if ABC is riding high on its Agent Carter pilot synergy dictates that it follows SHIELD which leads to the comedy hour / SHIELD / drama set-up we've argued all year for. Moving Castle, while unlikely, is possible. It's at a point where growth is unlikely and could solve some problem hours. NBC and CBS will have different shows in the hour so ABC could complete the 10:00 shake-up with something.

Much like the Grey's Anatomy/Scandal pairing, the strength of Shark Tank is a good problem to have. ABC should continue to ride that wave, but try to use it better. 20/20 is really helped, especially by now skewing as a younger newsmagazine than Dateline or 60 Minutes, but I fancy giving something like The Taste a try-out on Fridays.

Spot said...

And what cable nets and affiliate stations are going to buy The Neighbors for syndie?
The Neighbors would be a decent fit with ABC Family.

Spot said...

ABC Family isn't going to pay enough to help recoup the additional outlay that, presumably, 2 seasons/44 episodes would cost even with all the vertical integration. There's a difference between dragging out additional seasons of a show for syndication purposes versus continually renewing a show just to get there. For example, there was clear money to be made when ABC renewed According to Jim and Scrubs even though their first-run ratings were poor because they were already generating money on the syndie side for the production studio. By contrast, Sony kept cutting the price tag on Til Death just to get Fox to keep renewing it on the hopes of making those losses back and then some in syndication, which did not happen.

This is why I primarily think that if ABC Studios fully owned Happy Endings, we'd be arguing about the merits of a season 5: it fulfills ABC's bizarro focus on having a buzzy hangout comedy and it'd be close to a "proper" off-net deal (79 episodes if season 4 was a full 22 eps). Adding those qualitative and quantitative things probably would have worked much like it has for The Good Wife on CBS.

Spot said...

All I'm saying is if you're going to renew an in-house show to keep your production company happy then The Neighbors is clearly a better option than Mixology or Trophy Wife. No-one is going to air reruns of those shows.

I'm still not convinced Sony ultimately made a loss on Til Death. It still airs in syndication on CW Plus networks, it was dirt cheap to produce and Sony used to air it endlessly on their international SET satellite channels (often alongside repeats of NewsRadio, of all things). They got a lot of mileage out of that show.

Spot said...

If I were ABC I would renew: Modern Family, The Middle, The Goldbergs, Last Man Standing, and Suburgatory. Axe the rest.
If I were ABC I would renew: Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, Once Upon a Time, Agents of Shield, Castle, and Resurrection. Axe the rest.
If I were ABC I would renew: The Bachelor, Shark Tank, Dancing with the Stars, 20/20, and Funniest Home Videos. Axe the rest, and keep Nightline in late night. The Prime version is bombing.

Spot said...

Dancing with the Stars (2 Hours)
Dancing with the Stars (1 Hour)
New Drama
Once Upon a Time
New Drama (Agent Carter)
The Middle
Modern Family
The Goldbergs
Grey's Anatomy
New Drama
Last Man Standing
New comedy
Shark Tank
College Football

Spot said...

Last Man Standing. Agreed with Spot, clear cut renewal. But it has consequences. First, then ABC would keep 8 PM Friday comedy block. They won't move LMS back to weekday now, what would be benefit from it? Next, it means they'll very probably have 4 comedy blocks next season again.

The Goldbergs - very mediocre ratings, but with all other rookie comedies failing, clear cut renewal too. If for nothing, then for face saving. But here comes the problem: where ABC schedules it next fall? Even if it drops only usual 10%, that's mediocre performance, and it wouldn't be of any help to its lead-out. And if show would have sophomore slump, it would be actually weak link of Mon-Thu schedule. Under no circumstances I would waste Modern family lead-in on it. Friday? Not an option. It will be either LMS + Suburgatory (which is surprisingly skewing older than Goldbergs) or LMS doubled up, then in midseason replaced with The Taste or whatever they'll want to test there. Thus I believe it will get Tue 9:30 PM with some old show at 10 PM (probably Castle). I mean, The Goldbergs to lead-into something ABC has no vital interest to not be harmed by a weak lead-in. I know we should leave our mock schedules for the next week, but I just wanted to point out, in my opinion, moving S.H.I.E.L.D. to higher-HUT 9 PM wouldn't help much if it wouldn't get strong (or at least decent) lead-in. Goldbergs + new comedy at 8 PM wouldn't be that. Two new comedies could be, but that's a great risk. Also risky is to move established show to Tue 8 PM - fixing hole there could create even bigger hole on some other day.

Suburgatory. Should be renewed if ABC keeps 4 comedy blocks, should be cancelled if they cut it back to 3 blocks. As I said above, I strongly believe ABC will have 4 comedy blocks again. Thus renewal, because I can't imagine them renewing only 4 comedies, to go along 7-8 newbies (4 for fall), and with no veteran comedy on the bench. That would be too weird even for ABC.

ABC considering renewal of some other comedy on expense of Suburgatory? Honestly, I'm not even trying to figure out how's Paul Lee's brain working. It probably doesn't work at all, anyway. After all weird decisions over the last few seasons, he's now pushing for comedy called "Galavant" to be picked to series: "A musical fairy tale that centers on handsome Prince Galavant and his quest for revenge over the king who stole his one true love". What a man.

Revenge. With low ratings over last few episodes, it's now almost bellow
Nashville in raw ratings, and actually bellow it in True. But I think
it will be renewed for 22 episodes. Simply because studios tend to give
discount for shows nearing 88 episodes. While Nashville is at 44
episodes, so I expect it to be cancelled. There's no sense to keep that
train wreck for 44 more episodes. That is, unless studio is getting some
big, outside of first airing, revenue out of Nashville. If episode
count would be reverse (Nashville at 66, and Revenge at 44), then I'd
expect outcome too be reverse too, as there's virtually nothing
separating those two shows in ratings.

Spot said...

I think Galavant sounds pretty fun, though it's a big swing and could be a trainwreck.

Might be a good fit on Sunday with after Once. Pair it with The Goldbergs and you might have a nice hour of counter-programming with the big cable dramas, as well as freeing up Tuesday for dramas.

Spot said...

Modern Family, Last Man Standing, and Middle will be renewed and stay in the same slots. The Goldbergs will eke out a renewal, and where it goes depends if ABC wants to give nurturing to a show they don't own. If so, then it'll go inbetween Middle and Modern. Suburgatory is purely bubble; the show isn't doing good enough to stand out, but not bad enough to be an easy cancellation. But since other ABC shows not owned by the studio ended in that 50-60 episode range, and I don't think the network sees faith in the show, I want to say it's dead. But since ABC's comedy pilot overload shows at least 4 hours of comedy next season, Suburgatory will either get the spackle treatment, or last two seasons under LMS, despite my hatred for mixing multi and single cam comedies, and despite other good choices like The Winklers, Cristela, Saint Francis, and the Kevin Hart show. As for the ABC Studios series, I'd just kill them all. None of them are going to get big anytime soon, and are just lying out to pasture.

Scandal, Grey's, Once, SHIELD, Resurrection, Revenge, and Castle all will return. In terms of your questions, Scandal could either be given an anchor slot, a new drama is in the death slot, or Grey's goes to 8, a new drama (How to Get Away...) at 9, and Scandal at 10. SHIELD will probably have either a comedy block lead-in with shows the network is high on, and a new drama following it afterwards. A Castle move does seem likely, but I don't see a new drama or an older one like Nashville as TVBTN posters predict doing well against whatever NBC has this season. Looking at you, State of Affairs! So the stable Castle will continue its run there once again. As for Nashville, though, unless it does really well in music revenue, I think it's time for it to go. Why waste money on two low-rated seasons, especially since the drama pilots look much more appetizing.

Nothing to say about reality, outside of DWTS, Bachelor, AFHV, 20/20, and Shark Tank staying where they are. I doubt The Taste will return.

Spot said...

I think it's time to test Revenge's resolve against The Mork And Mindy Curse - and laugh as it disintegrates, just like everything else ABC's put in that slot over the last 30 years, Ugly Betty excluded. At the very least, it'll save them money on another costly rookie flop in that timeslot.

Of course, w/out Big Bang there at the immediate outset, I wouldn't be overly surprised if ABC goes the rookie Thursday route and lets Revenge play out its string on Sunday, at least for the first half of the season. I still think it's gonna crater horribly in that slot, though, just because ABC is cursed there, and maybe football is slightly undervalued as competition to scripted shows.

Yeah, I see no reason to renew any of the comedies from the bottom of the barrel, either. Although it's gotta sting for those of you who are Trophy Wife fans. (trust me, I feel your pain)

I think the best option is to hold firm on Greys/Scandal until Greys is done. To be certain, cost is going to be a factor sooner or later - after all, deals made when it could still knock down the occasional 4+ are gonna sting if the late season declines hold into next year.

Spot said...

They just signed the two leads not too long ago, so it looks like it's got a while to go.

Spot said...

I still don't understand why Middle and Modern Family have seen so little juice from syndication. I understand MF a little bit, because it probably maxed out when it used to get high-5s all the time, but Middle has never been more than a decent option with average ratings. I thought it would get a whole new audience between local syndication and ABC Family, but it hasn't turned out that way. After basically getting the same ratings for four years and watching the league fall under it, it's falling the same as the league.

I wish we could have seen Goldbergs after MF. SFN and now Mixology have wasted 50-60% of MF's lead-in week after week while SHIELD was providing no real boost to it.

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