Monday, April 27, 2015

ABC True Power Rankings, May 2015

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, rounded up, through Sunday, April 19.

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

ABC ComediesTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
Safe on Wednesday?
1Modern Family3.21+6%3.21-9%43%41%7
2The Goldbergs2.34+9%2.17+29%40%39%7

ABC may do something to its Wednesday comedy lineup, but it's hard to see it involving an exile of either of these two shows. Modern Family is of course the centerpiece of it all, and The Goldbergs is too young, too strong and too hot to be jerked around again.

ABC ComediesTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
Unsafe on Wednesday?
3The Middle2.21+4%2.00-3%34%37%7

These shows, on the other hand, may have to head to Tuesday if ABC must put a newbie on Wednesday.

Old hand The Middle could go, but it would feel a bit like a "put out to pasture" move with a sixth-year comedy. And that sixth-year comedy happens to be literally stronger than ever in Plus. The other downside with moving The Middle is that it probably forces the newbie to go up against Empire. That may not be as big of an issue as you would think from simply looking at Empire's raw 18-49 ratings; the show skews very sharply toward a super-young, African-American audience rather than being a broad-skewing "Death Star" like prime American Idol. But it's still not ideal.

Newbie Black-ish has beefed itself up a little bit since its mid-season struggles. The funny thing with this show is that so much is made of the Empire competition, but it was weakening before Empire showed up, was at its weakest against the early part of Empire's season, and then clearly started picking back up steam even against later, stronger Empire episodes. Either way, the show now looks decent enough that it probably could anchor an hour. But it's still a risk, as all moves are, and is it too big of a risk for a potential ABC Studios syndication player? It just might still be one of those "good not great" pairings that stays together, and ABC also may want a reliable 9:30 lead-in if something new is going to 10/9c.

ABC ComediesTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The High-End Bubble
5Fresh Off the Boat1.69-12%1.4038%41%4
6Last Man Standing1.56+2%1.24-4%24%39%7

Both of these shows should be back. It might be another down-to-the-wire adventure for Last Man Standing, but the show is an even stronger player than last year. I think it's a little undercounted by the True formula, but even this level is a clear notch above the bubble.

The 1.3 on March 31 for Fresh Off the Boat was starting to make things a touch worrisome, but upticks in the next two weeks and another 1.5 for the finale have probably solidified it. It's doing a little better than previous late-season Tuesday comedies like The Goldbergs and Last Man Standing in Plus, and there should be upside in the same kind of summer repeat exposure.

ABC ComediesTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The Low-End Bubble

Cristela's retention improved for the Last Man Standing crossover in the third-to-last episode and remained at basically the same level in the last two weeks. In the end, its 58 or 59 Plus was a clear improvement on last year's The Neighbors (51 Plus). And on a weaker ABC, all that may have meant more than it does on this ABC. But this network has six clearly stronger comedies and two clearly stronger new comedies, so renewing Cristela takes away too much space to try newbies next season. I don't count it 100% out, but at the very least it needs all of ABC's potential Last Man companions to bomb out.

ABC ComediesTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The Dunzo
9Manhattan Love Story1.10-8%0.8037%33%2

ABC DramasTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
1How to Get Away with Murder2.67-3%2.8438%25%5
3Grey's Anatomy2.35-8%2.13-13%37%25%7

There were three Scandals this season: 1) the rock-solid 3.0ish player in the fall, 2) the extremely impressive low 3's player during the arc right after its return from winter hiatus, and 3) the more modest low 2's version that has now persisted for a full month.

From a True standpoint, #1 and #3 are clearly different shows, different enough that it's probably become pretty safe to say that the show is on the decline moving forward. But they're also only about three tenths different. It looks worse than it really is psychologically because of #2 being in the middle, which looked like another level above even the fall deliveries. Overall, TGIT should stay intact and be a reasonably strong force again next season, but not quite as much of one.

ABC DramasTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
Other Safe Shows
4Once Upon a Time2.01-19%1.80+4%43%36%6
5Agents of SHIELD1.76+0%1.52-35%45%54%6

After a very good first couple weeks back, it's become clear over the last month-plus that Once Upon a Time is a weaker player than not just the Frozen arc but last spring as well. Barring something Frozen-esque for next fall, the year-to-year comparisons are likely gonna be pretty tough to look at next fall. But for now, there's no denying it's still a very solid piece.

Agents of SHIELD has had 1.6 the last couple weeks and it's now safe to say the show is having another respectable spring run. I'm keeping expectations tempered for the Avengers effect, since Captain America 2 really didn't do anything last year, but True says this is closer to being a Once Upon a Time type of player than a bubble show. I wish this was a hotter take, but the fact that there's a SHIELD spin-off in development kinda makes it clear that ABC has a similarly favorable view.

The show to be concerned about is Castle, which fell into a funk four weeks into this season that it just can't seem to get out of. With the Dancing with the Stars ship almost steadied year-to-year, Castle's 1.4's and 1.5's are still 20%+ behind what it was doing at this time last year. Castle seems to have come full circle and returned to the dynamic from the show's early years, when Castle had spotty retention of a good DWTS. It was more acceptable when Castle was a young show slowly picking up steam and trying to get ABC Studios that elusive procedural syndication package. Now, Castle is trending in the wrong direction on a network trending in the right direction and is scarily close to grading out like a bubble show. A "put out to pasture" treatment seems increasingly justified. Could ABC pile this and Nashville together in those tough last two Sunday hours and call it a day? I wouldn't object, though it may be more about how compatible the new drama is with DWTS and Once.

ABC DramasTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The Bubble
7Secrets and Lies1.48+4%1.3733%32%3
9Agent Carter1.41+7%1.3740%51%3

Both of ABC's "bridge" dramas have very bubbly ratings that will make these decisions a very interesting education on the nature of this kind of programming. If only one can survive, it should be Secrets and Lies. It had the kind of initial disinterest that I was expecting (I thought the promos were awful), and it had to keep pretty much all of that opening 1.5 audience to have a chance. But now that it's actually gone out and done it, it deserves a lot of credit. The writing staff has clearly demonstrated a certain level of competency at keeping the viewership engaged over the last couple months, something that shouldn't be easily overlooked in a world where A.D. and American Odyssey can drop half their demo in two weeks.  The trajectory seems very reminiscent of that steady but modest season one of Scandal, a show that obviously proved to have enormous upside.

The question is whether being a "bridge" show can really cash in on that upside. If it could come back in the fall and potentially become a 24-episode-per-year staple with any kind of traditional syndication package, I'd have little hesitation in giving it a whirl next fall to see what happens. It wouldn't feel particularly worse than the Resurrection situation last year, when that show was somewhat stronger but clearly fading. Instead, this show would get just 10 more episodes, probably be off the air for at least eight months, and have to undergo a cast overhaul. Even if it can somehow catch fire the way Scandal did, you're just getting a stronger 10-episode bridge rather than something to build around. I guess what I'm saying is that the merit is there to give Secrets and Lies another shot, but is there enough merit to overcome the skepticism with the bridge/limited series idea in general? If this kind of show is basically dependent on first-run ratings, it's not a slam dunk. We'll see.

And Agent Carter feels like a slightly weaker Secrets and Lies. Its ratings in a mostly very good situation should've been better, though it held up all right in the last couple weeks with reduced lead-ins and then the return of The Voice. If the economics support bringing it back, go for it, and it certainly isn't that hard to envision a different "bridge" doing much worse. My main point is I'd put Secrets ahead of this show.

In the context of what kind of show it is, Nashville has had a pretty good season. Being basically even in Plus is a win, even if it wouldn't have pulled that off without the much bigger (though still fairly incompatible) lead-in. Coming into the season, it really looked like ABC might have to make a major reach if getting to 88 episodes was a real motivation. Instead, it's basically a legit bubble show ratings-wise, and the magic 88 would be more of a tie-breaker than a true game-changer. If it gets 22, it's probably going to be the weakest returning hour on the ABC fall schedule, but it's not as unjustifiable as it could've been, and ABC could have at least some hope that it won't be much worse than this year's weakest returnee hours (Revenge and Resurrection).

ABC DramasTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
The Sub-Bubble
12American Crime1.17-18%1.0330%31%3

I've said this pretty much all year, but Forever is a stronger show than the raw numbers indicate because of how incompatible it is with SHIELD. But it's just not quite strong enough. It's at the kind of level that NBC would probably consider pity renewing, but (much like with Cristela) there just isn't the room on a network this deep.

Revenge seems to be over, and no objections to that here. American Crime is somewhat similar to Forever in that it's not that compatible with its lead-in, but 1.0ish out of Scandal is a fair amount worse than 1.0ish out of SHIELD. It'd be one of the great critical acclaim reaches of all time, and I haven't detected that much buzz lately anyway.

ABC UnscriptedTrueHeatA18-49y2ySkew%MaleCounted Eps
1The Bachelor2.48+15%2.58-9%36%27%4
2Dancing with the Stars Fall2.35+16%2.36-2%21%28%5
3Dancing with the Stars Spring2.25+6%2.10-11%19%28%2
4Shark Tank2.10-0%1.81-5%31%45%8
5America's Funniest Home Videos1.69+7%1.34-4%27%43%7
7The Great Christmas Light Fight1.37-11%1.30+22%31%39%1
8Repeat After Me1.21-9%0.9739%37%3
9In an Instant1.06-8%0.6323%n/a3
10The Taste0.98+7%0.87-22%35%33%3

One through seven feel pretty locked into the same situations as last year. The real drama is whether Repeat After Me can return in a low-priority capacity. It'd be an obvious cancel if it were a scripted show, but it might be cheap enough for a low-priority whirl somewhere else.

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