Wednesday, May 3, 2017

2017 Upfront Renewology: ABC

Welcome to Upfront Renewology! This is the SHOW-centric half of the upfront preview, digging into the merits of individual shows by network. The next round will be Upfront Questions, the SCHEDULE-centric look ahead to upfront week. The following week, the schedules come out, and with them come the Upfront Answers.

Averages up to date through Monday, May 1.

More Upfront Renewology: NBC | Fox | ABC | CBS | CW

The Low-End Comedies
Dr. Ken67%
The Real O'Neals64%
Imaginary Mary62%

I've mentioned a few times that the True formula was made kinder to 10:00 shows and harsher to 8:00 shows. The idea is that each half-hour makes it tougher for same-day DVRing to occur before people go to bed. Another interesting consequence is that True has also become kinder to comedies that air at 9:30.

To some extent, the 9:30 favoritism has been justified. There are definitely 9:30 comedies like Black-ish, Life in Pieces, The Last Man on Earth and even 2 Broke Girls that do better than their earlier counterparts in terms of delayed viewing. But that's also how we come upon fairly optimistic R% outlooks for The Real O'Neals (whose cast is bailing to other pilots) and Imaginary Mary (which had its order slashed before hitting the airwaves). And these shows have been much less impressive in delayed viewing gains. So quantifying this whole concept is probably more complicated than I've tried to make it.

(Mary will probably be much closer to 50% after last night's new low 0.7, but the official R% was not ready as of this post going up.)

Beyond the 9:30 factor, another big aspect is that ABC has much stronger comedies than dramas. We (and maybe networks, too) tend to look to cancel the lowest shows within each category within each network. But this is a case in which the weakest comedies are stronger than some of the bubble dramas, not to mention a whole other tier of bottom-feeding dramas like Notorious and Conviction. When the weakest comedies on the network are grading out as renewal favorites, what it really means is Renewology is begging for the network to add more comedy hours. That's what is working for the network right now.

However, even if that happens, it seems questionable at best that more than one of these three shows (including Dr. Ken) will actually pull through. From the way the trades buzz is headed, zero seems much more likely than two, with Last Man Standing also in danger on Friday. Cleaning out that many comedies would be kind of a shame, especially if some of the much lower dramas get renewed.

The Drama Bubble
Agents of SHIELD86%
Once Upon a Time84%
The Catch52%0.920.900.89827%32%
American Crime22%0.780.780.89826%40%

Like last year, ABC has a messy bunch of dramas fighting for the network's last renewals. But the spring ratings have brought a little more clarity this year. Two of these shows have emerged in the spring as the clear strongest in the ratings: old hands Once Upon a Time and Agents of SHIELD.

Of those two, the "best" renewal would be Agents of SHIELD. It was much closer to the bubble in the winter but has become clearer in part due to a Blindspot-esque ratings resurgence in the spring, actually growing in the ratings from its low point months earlier. Its year-to-year comparisons within the last month have been its best of the season. Another reason to like SHIELD is its "bird in the hand" advantage; it's doing what it's doing in a fairly bad timeslot already, and it would be easy to give it another one. Finally, as always, it's bringing a uniquely young and male audience to the table. It's not quite as male-leaning as last season, but still a lot more than anything else on the network.

Once Upon a Time is about as strong as SHIELD, but seems to have fewer of the other things in its favor. First, it just seems a lot less versatile when lining up your pieces on a schedule board. It has aired to great success as a full-season series in the 8:00 hour for six seasons. It has a substantial family audience and not very much delayed DVRing. Could it be effective in a spackle-type role? Not sure they could risk it in the 10:00 hour, and those are the kinds of slots these bubble shows should be fighting for. Maybe Friday if all the comedies get cancelled is an option, but it seems like Once would be damaged by going anywhere other than right back where it is on Sunday at 8:00. And the show is low enough that doing this now would be holding back the network. All of this before we even get into the fact that the show will have a heavy reboot, which could accelerate the erosion even more. In terms of ratings strength, it's far enough ahead of The Catch and everything below it that it could sneak through. But I'm not sold it is a renewal that will turn out well for the network.

Beyond those two, take a fairly sizable step down and you've got The Catch. It's a weaker version of the show that eked out a slightly surprising renewal last year, skewing a good bit older than the rest of TGIT. It's another show like the Tuesday 9:30 comedies that gets True love due to its later timeslot but doesn't really live up to it in delayed ratings. One more 0.6 could throw it below the 50% threshold next week.

Then there's Quantico, the ABC darling that has not been able to capitalize on lead-ins from The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars in 2017. This is one of only a handful of shows on TV for which True does a "worse" job than raw numbers, in terms of standard deviation; it got a ton of credit for its 0.7's on Sunday in the fall and has been slammed for similar raw numbers with much better lead-ins later in the season. Perhaps the True methodology is somewhat to blame for this, but I would also argue that it was actually doing at least passably in the fall (just look at American Crime getting 0.3's there now...) and really got much weaker since then. If the lead-ins were doing absolutely nothing for it, it shouldn't be dropping so much in preliminary half-hours. In the fall, its 0.6's and 0.7's would become low-1's in Live+3 and mid-1's in Live+7. Now, it's barely ekeing out 1.0's in Live+7! The show is doing terribly, is not even that impressive as a DVR gainer at this point, and thus the ratings argument is not there anymore. It's just a question of whether outside revenues can perpetuate a big flop. ABC would presumably bury it on Sunday and create the same sort of setup that CBS has on the night, taking the hit on network ratings in exchange for profit elsewhere.

American Crime was a ratings reach both years it was renewed, but it was not that much of a reach in season two. You could make the argument it was on the low end of the bubble, only a bit weaker than its fellow occupant Nashville. In that territory, it doesn't take much awards buzz to reasonably kick it over the top. In season three, with a couple anemic 0.3's on Sunday, it's gotten back into major reach territory again. Not impossible, but it's gonna sting a little more than it did last year.

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