Wednesday, April 30, 2014

NBC 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. 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 through April 27, rounded up.

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

NBC ComediesTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Renewal Candidates
1About a Boy1.511.8034%3
2Growing Up Fisher1.491.5033%3
3Parks and Recreation1.421.0751%-28%6

I said this when the shows had been on the air for two weeks, and it has continued to hold true two months later: if you flipped About a Boy and Growing Up Fisher, the ratings would almost exactly flip. They've behaved just as you'd expect from one show airing two back-to-back episodes with a Voice lead-in. There are a couple times that Fisher has looked like the slightly stronger show (April 8 when it got a 1.5 with AaB at just 1.7) and a couple when About a Boy has looked like the slightly stronger show (its 1.9 last week), but over a larger span there is simply no meaningful separation.

On the surface, this seems like a good thing for Growing Up Fisher. If About a Boy is as safe as the buzz (and its raw numbers) would suggest, then Fisher should be every bit as safe. Maybe that's the case. But it also works the other way: there's no real ratings reason to favor Fisher over Boy. Since NBC originally favored About a Boy (giving it the direct post-Voice slot), that means it will probably continue getting the preferential treatment. Will that be the difference between renewal and cancellation, between fall and midseason, or between fall timeslots? Gun to my head, I'd say the shows have held up enough that it means Boy to fall and Fisher to midseason, but I still think Fisher could easily get outright cancelled. These shows have little DVR interest and skew pretty old, so NBC may not project them favorably in some replacement role without Voice support.

That brings us to Community and the quest for #sixseasonsandamovie. Other than noting that it skews a lot younger than About a Boy and Growing Up Fisher, the only real value I can add to the number above is to read the Parks and Recreation tea leaves. It would've been possible to read Parks' early renewal as a good sign for Community; if that was such an easy renewal, then Community likely clears the bar as well. But I wasn't buying it, because Parks still could've slid into the same winter/spring replacement role that Community has long occupied. That means no need for Community. With About a Boy and Fisher representing viable comedy renewals (well, at least relative to NBC's last couple classes), it should not be assumed that Community will get there just because it got there in past years.

But there's been another development in Parks land: at the end of the finale, the promo guy announced the show would return in the fall. Maybe this is not as big a deal as I'm making it, but it inclines me to lean toward renewal for Community. Parks won't be the returnee midseason replacement, so Community could take that role yet again. This isn't a lock by any means; networks usually don't hold multiple returning comedies for midseason, so maybe Growing Up Fisher ends up taking away that slot from Community next season. But if NBC sees enough in Parks to give it a fall slot (admittedly a debatable decision), I'll give Community a slightly above 50/50 shot.

To sum up: I've got both Growing Up Fisher and Community slightly above 50/50 individually. That implies both surviving is more likely than neither surviving, but it's still pretty likely that one of the two is axed. I just don't know which to commit to. True says Fisher, but the deeper stuff works in Community's favor.

NBC ComediesTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The "Broad"
5Sean Saves the World1.040.8639%5
6The Michael J. Fox Show0.990.8040%5
7Welcome to the Family0.990.9045%1

NBC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Renewed (or Really Should Be)
1The Blacklist2.502.7734%7
2Law and Order: SVU2.041.7634%+3%7
3Chicago Fire1.951.8335%+12%7
5Chicago PD1.701.5533%4

In terms of to move or not to move, most of these are pretty simple. NBC's basically admitted that The Blacklist is on the move; does it get a major vote of confidence as a Thursday 9/8c centerpiece leading into something new? Does it go Thursday 10/9c if NBC takes still another stab at two-hour comedy? Or is it incorporated somewhere like Wednesday, ducking CBS' Thursday Night Football? I'd put it on Thursday, though Wednesday might be a worthier consideration if the SVU renewal doesn't work out.

I thought Chicago Fire was the least likely NBC drama to move last season, and it did move! (Though to be fair, almost everything moved.) This year, I once again think it absolutely shouldn't move. It does a good job where it is, and will continue to do so no matter what they throw into the 9/8c hour to benefit from The Voice.

Grimm is a show that's better-utilized on Friday than it would be anywhere else. Next!

Chicago PD. Well, ideally I'd keep the SVU/PD pair together, because this show seems a notch below the other drama early renewals. If SVU is gone, I don't love any idea. It doesn't seem strong enough to launch a newbie. I guess they would leave it where it is and do some major overhaul in the first two Wednesday hours?

That brings us to the only member of this tier that's not renewed: fifteenth-year Law and Order: SVU, which appears to be stuck in cost-related negotiations. It's not surprising that this situation has gotten a lot of comparison with the cancellation of the Law and Order mothership in 2010, since Dick Wolf was at the center both times.

But the situations are pretty different ratings-wise. L&O averaged a 1.79 demo in its weeknight run in 2010. SVU's averaging a 1.83 demo on a weeknight in 2013-14. What's the difference in those nearly identical raw ratings after four years of collective decline? L&O in season twenty was pretty much a flop (64 A18-49+ for the Monday episodes). NBC didn't terribly mind airing it because the network was such a massive mess. But it was not a meaningful scheduling piece for the network by that point. The primary motivation to renew was record book reasons; season 21 would've put it past Gunsmoke for most in primetime drama history. And apparently that was not motivation enough to make the money work.

SVU, on the other hand, is right on the cusp of being a league average show (95 A18-49+). It's the network's third-biggest scripted show, airing in what's still one of the tougher weeknight timeslots (though not as tough as it used to be). Losing SVU would do real damage to the network's schedule. I mean, I can't claim to be an authority in these situations, but I can at least say with some confidence that Dick Wolf's got a lot more leverage here than he did with L&O in 2010. It'd be kind of crazy if the show went away after it followed up a couple fairly weak seasons with such a solid rally this year.

NBC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Bubble

Most of this stuff is still pretty much the same as in February. I'd still pick Parenthood as the clear favorite out of this foursome to snag a renewal. Best True score, best "bird in the hand," most critical acclaim, owned by NBC, etc. Though I'm doubtful that even it will score another full season order.

Revolution may sneak in, especially if SVU doesn't make it, but I put it below 50/50.

Believe is a long shot that survives only if NBC desperately wants to make a face-saving renewal out of the all-new Sunday lineup. Admittedly, this sounded less implausible when I first wrote it on Monday. After last week's episode adjusted from 1.2 down to 1.0, it's that much bigger of a reach. And Crisis is essentially tied with Believe now, which means it's probably behind Believe in the race for that long shot possibility. (Much like in the About a Boy/Growing Up Fisher comparison, NBC has a favorite... Believe, the one that got previewed after The Voice.)
NBC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
Sub-Bubble, But Cheap...

As I said in February, right before Hannibal premiered, a tie between these two would go to Hannibal because of its considerable advantage in acclaim/clout. It's a bit behind in raw numbers, but since it's later in the season I basically consider this a tie. True considers Hannibal a tiny bit ahead. That means I find it pretty unlikely NBC would renew Dracula and cancel Hannibal.

Is a renewal of both possible?! I'd be pretty surprised if it happens, at least on a regular season basis. It's not a given that another newbie would do better; remember how well Dracula premiered, and it ended up here. But as I said above, these are decidedly "sub-bubble" performers. Even if the shows are cheap, NBC ought to at least make some effort to do better.

I'd try something new on Friday at 10/9c in the fall, keeping Hannibal as the midseason option again. But it's still very possible that NBC follows the weak ratings, blows both up and does something different with the 10/9c hour. (Two more short-order newbies? Two-hour Dateline into Grimm? Revolution?!?!)

NBC DramasTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
The Dunzo

NBC UnscriptedTrueA18-49Skewy2yCounted Eps
1The Voice Mon3.493.4337%-16%3
3The Voice Mon Fall3.433.4540%-9%4
2The Voice Tue3.383.0034%-15%3
4The Voice Tue Fall3.003.2238%-12%5
5The Biggest Loser1.721.8038%-17%5
6Dateline Fri1.681.2825%-1%8
7The Sing-Off1.471.4036%3
8Hollywood Game Night1.321.0339%+2%4
9Dateline Wed1.181.1030%1
10American Dream Builders0.740.6032%2

How worried should we be about The Voice? If you compare The Voice with the year-ago evenings, something I've seen done in some media, it looks like the series is experiencing an American Idol-esque collapse. Two weeks ago, the Monday/Tuesday ratings were down 35%/35% from the year-ago evenings. Last week, it was -39%/-32%. Ouch!

Fortunately, it's not quite that dire, as the "y2y" numbers above suggest. A key to remember with these talent shows is that the part of the season is at least as important as the time of year, as their ratings are disproportionately higher early on. And these two seasons started a month apart. So when doing these year-ago evening comparisons, this season's The Voice is being compared against a month earlier in last season, which will always exaggerate the size of the decline. But let's be clear: since this season is airing in a higher-viewed part of the year and launched after the Olympics, -16%/-15% is still not good. It likely ends up trailing the episodes that went deep into June last year. We're not getting into Idol territory, but if I'm NBC, I am getting a bit worried here. Not that there's really much they should do about it right now!

I said in February to keep The Biggest Loser off the fall schedule in favor of more scripted stuff. I'm still for that idea in principle, but there is one exception: if NBC's going to make The Blacklist the big Thursday centerpiece. In that case, I wouldn't mind having The Biggest Loser funneling some casual audience at 8/7c into The Blacklist. Otherwise, save it for The Voice's hiatus.


Spot said...

Even though Community's half a point behind Growing Up Fisher in raw numbers, I see more value in bringing it back in a midseason role than Fisher. The latter feels like a show that's just there while Community has that kind of rabid base like Chuck, Fringe, and Dollhouse. And Community would be a better fit with Parks & Recreation if Tina Fey's Tooken flops than Fisher (assuming those two are paired together).

The sheer number of comedy pilots shot (14 including those already ordered compared to 9 dramas) suggest NBC won't give up on a 2 hour comedy block next season, but unless About a Boy moves from Tuesday or Wednesday does not remain tri-drama NBC would have the same Thursday set-up for 2014-2015: a veteran leading into three newbies. Didn't work this season, so I'm inclined to think it wouldn't work again. Which is why even if SVU is canceled I'd make The Blacklist my Thursday centerpiece. If I'm NBC, I'd just blink in this staring contest and renew SVU; otherwise Chicago Fire has to move back to Wednesday and Tuesday becomes a much bigger question mark from 9:30-11:00. The only positive to that would be the opportunity for more crossovers compared to SVU/ChiPD.

While Revolution didn't "pull a Smash" I feel like its only viable way to season 3 is Fridays. But NBC has shown that it wants to get Friday to be as low-cost as possible. Does it follow Grimm at 10:00 or could NBC give Grimm the split-season treatment and use Revolution to fill the gap?

There's no compelling need to renew anything from the Sunday block. While The Biggest Loser would help fill in the Voice-less gap on Monday or Tuesday, I also wouldn't object moving it to Sundays post-football and moving Parenthood there as well. The odds of that, though, are low; 2 hour TBLs on Mondays and Hollywood Game Night on Tuesdays are simple solutions to hammock in there.

Spot said...

The Blacklist is first NBC show in many years that actually has a shot at lasting 5+ seasons. To move it to Thursday would be suicidal, border line moronic. Against strong ABC and CBS lineups, Blacklist would be down something like 40% to high 1s. NBC would irreparably damage their most strong scripted show, they would turn hit show into one that slowly limps towards 88 episodes.
If SVU is renewed, then they should put Blacklist at Wednesday 10 PM (move Chicago PD to Tue 10 PM, and Chicago Fire to Tue 9 PM). At Wed 10 PM, against not so strong ABC/CBS/cable, it could average around 2.5, or close to it. If SVU is cancelled, then it's better they schedule TB at Wednesday 9 PM, with CPD remaining at 10 PM. Yes, it would be against crossoverish Criminal Minds, and strong Modern Family, so probably low 2s only, but it's better it leads into CPD, than the weaker show into the stronger one, I think. They would need to tone it down, but just a bit, as most of episodes in Season 1 were already suitable for a 9 PM airing.

From ratings standpoint, I don't really care which of About a Boy / Growing Up Fisher / Community they renew, or how many of those. As for each it would be pity renewal for show's final season. It really depends of how they like their pilots. From fan standpoint, I'd like 10 more seasons of Community, of course.

Similar goes for Revolution / Crisis / Believe / Dracula. For each, new season would just prolong death for one more year. Only here renewal would definitely be a mistake. Dramas cost more than comedies, and those are very near to drop bellow 1.0, some already bellow it. NBC should prefer any pilot to so low-rated dramas. Really, any.

As for Parenthood, I'm sure it won't be in the fall schedule, but I'd thought NBC would like 13 episodes of a reliable player as a spackle... but story is kinda wrapped, so I'm not sure anymore.

I think they'll renew Hannibal for summer or late spring 2015. It's cheap, and critical darling. But surely they aim for better ratings during regular season.

If SVU is renewed, The Biggest Loser absolutely needs to go to midseason with so many renewed dramas + 2 comedy blocks + 3 hours of The Voice. However, if SVU is cancelled, then I'm fine with it remaining in fall schedule. So many timeslots in NBC fall schedule depend on SVU renewal (at least I happen to think so). I'd definitely renew SVU, show's holding respectably in tough Wed 9 PM timeslot, despite NBC giving it bad (and sometimes straight up lousy) lead-in each season.

Spot said...

I think the main quite plausible issue with Blacklist at 9 is if Scandal gets moved to Thursday at 9.
While it would be *interesting* to see the top 2 broadcast dramas this season go head-to-head, it would likely be damaging.

Spot said...

I'd renew Parks and Recreation, About a Boy, and Growing Up Fischer. Cancel Community, love the show, but it isn't really strong enough to be useful.
I'd renew The Blacklist, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, SVU, and Grimm for the fall schedule. Parenthood and Hannibal for midseason. Axe the rest.
I'd renew The Voice, The Biggest Loser, and Dateline NBC for the fall schedule. Have Hollywood Game Night in the wings for a midseason launch,

Spot said...

I can't see SVU getting cancelled. If it was last year, NBC might have wanted to cancel it as it was on a definite downward slope, but it is up this year in raw and more in plus. Parenthood, Revolution, and Hannibal are all down at least 30% year to year! Even Grimm gave back its small sophomoric bounce.

Spot said...

Sunday Night Football
The Voice
New Drama
The Voice
Chicago Fire
Chicago PD
Parks and Recreation
New Singlecam
Law and Order: SVU
The Blacklist
The Biggest Loser
About a Boy
Growing Up Fisher

Spot said...

Almost perfect.
I would only try new comedy instead of Growing Up Fisher. It's pulling 1.5 on a The Voice anchored night. On some other night I see it sinking bellow 1.0 faster than you can say "Michael J. Fox".

Also, I would like either TBL, either HGN in the midseason. You do have only 3 new shows, likely it will be 4, maybe even 5. So I'd either put Maya Rudolph variety show at 8 PM, either at 10 PM new genre drama (for sure if Friday 10 PM would be returning low-rate drama, like Revolution or Dracula).

And I think it would be better if comedy blocks would switch places. Like, niche comedies would rate low anyway, so I'd give them tougher Thursday night.

Spot said...

Thanks for the feedback. I only put the comedies were they are because they are 'family' comedies that probably have some overlap with the Middle and Suburgatory

Spot said...

I think you're exaggerating about moving Blacklist to Thursday. At 9 PM, it would very likely face the aging Grey's Anatomy after losing a major character on ABC, the also-aging Two and a Half Men and a newbie on CBS, a second-tier drama or sitcoms on FOX, and whatever CW will do leading out of a significantly weakened Vampire Diaries. I doubt that the middle of a Thursday Night Football will pose much trouble as it faces the end of Monday Night Football now. As for Thursday night, well, TNF still doesn't sound like a big problem to me, Scandal probably has a very different audience and Elementary doesn't have much of an audience at all.

I'm not saying that Wednesday at 9 isn't the best move, what with Idol, Modern Family and Criminal Minds fading, just that it's not the slam dunk you're making it out to be.

Spot said...

I feel irrationally confident about Community being renewed. Its ratings aren't great but it's pretty consistent, it skews young and I imagine its licensing fee is very low. NBC could definitely live without it, but, equally, I don't think they'll struggle to find it a spot on their mid-season schedule, plus the whole #sixseasonsandamovie thing provides them with a clear out after next season rather than a neverending commitment to renew the show.

I feel similarly about Hannibal. It's not exactly setting the world alight, but it's cheap and can be aired in low-priority timeslots, or even pushed into summer. I feel it's overperformed this season given that it was being pushed onto Friday, even with a better lead-in.

In general, I feel NBC should be eying renewing their veterans. They've spent years on the renewal-cancellation treadmill following the whole Jay Leno Show debacle and they've finally got enough depth to get away from that and schedule a coherent schedule without having to premiere a million shows just to fill time.

And while NBC is looking like they will be a little short of scheduling space next season, that's likely a short-lived problem. Community, Parks and Parenthood will all almost certainly be done after next season. SVU, if renewed, is likely done after two more, because increasing costs and declining ratings aren't a problem that's going to disappear.

Just a reminder that NBC said The Michael J. Fox Show would return later in the season. I don't blame them for not bringing it back and they haven't really had a schedule spot for it, but, equally, I think it's worth holding them accountable for being full of shit.

Spot said...

NBC will spread Chicago Fire and Chicago PD on different nights. Look for NBC to put another Dick Wolf spinoff Chicago MD after the Voice on Monday. I sense The Blacklist moving to either Thursdays at 10pm or leading off the Wednesday night lineup at 8pm. This is my line up prediction for next fall..

The Voice
Chicago MD

The Voice
Hollywood Game Night
Chicago Fire

The Night Shift/Pending summer ratings
Law & Order SVU
Chicago PD

Undateable/Pending summer ratings
Parks And Recreation
About a Boy
Growing Up Fisher
The Blacklist

Dateline NBC
New Drama/Hannibal

Spot said...

The Blacklist has a juggernaught loyal following and viewership will follow to Thursdays against mediocre dramas on ABC and CBS. The only real threat to The Blacklist to Thursday night at 10pm would be the 8 NFL games CBS has slated for the fall.

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