Friday, June 2, 2017

The Breakdown Grading Rubric

It's been six years since the last time I put out an official word on how I come up with the seasonal grades that I hand out in the posts now known as "The Breakdown." The old rubric using raw numbers is actually not too far off of my current standards, once you consider that the league average decline is now almost twice what it was back in those days. Maybe it's just a bit harsher. An updated version of this was probably long overdue anyway, and even moreso now that I've added the complication of doing it with new shows.

There is still a lot of room for subjectivity due to all the different kinds of changes in timeslots. And I'm well aware that no matter how much explanation, it is impossible to please everyone with this kind of practice. But since there actually is an "objective" starting point rolling around in my head, may as well put it out there.

Returning Shows

The big point with returning shows is that the overwhelmingly most important grading factor is how each show relates to its own previous history. I find this a much more interesting approach than simply ranking it within the current landscape, because where it ranks is pretty obvious if you just look at the Plus average. (Of course, one could argue it's now just as easy to go here and line everything up by y2y trend...) Most of the grade comes from a simple year-to-year comparison in A18-49+. But sometimes, it looks back beyond just the previous year and gives a bonus or penalty if the season particularly stands out compared to previous ones.

For the most part, I don't pay much attention to what season a show is in, because I don't get the sense that there's a consistent "aging curve" in TV the way there is with, say, professional athletes. Maybe it is more impressive to be even in Plus as a 12th season show compared with a 4th season show, but I'm not aware that there's a certain point where declines become much more likely. Your mileage may vary. The exception to this rule is that I'm probably a bit kinder on average with second season shows, since so many of them get a lot Truly weaker over the course of the first season. It often seems fairer to compare with where these shows ended up late in season one.

So here we go. This is a rough guide to the "average" for each grade, if timeslots are equal.

A+: "Something truly freaky"
A: Up 15% or more in Plus
A-: Up 10% or more in Plus
B+: Up 5% ("slightly up") in Plus
B: Even in Plus
B-: Down 2% ("barely down") in Plus
C+: Down 5% ("slightly down") in Plus
C: Down 10% ("noticeably down") in Plus
C-: Down 15% in Plus
D+: Down 17.5% in Plus
D: Down 20% in Plus
D-: Down 25% in Plus
F: Down 30% or more in Plus

A few more observations out of this list:
  • I used to think of B- as my go-to "even in Plus" starting point, but I've been swayed toward B over the years. I really don't see it getting any higher than that, because there has to be a lot of room for all of the even more positive outcomes. I still like C+ as a "slightly down" so that has kinda left B- without a home... usually I just use it for shows that are barely on the wrong side of even.
  • I also used to think you had to at least break even in raw numbers to garner an A. In today's world of much faster declines, that creed is left behind, because there are very, very few shows that pull that off. Still, I think it's reasonable to say that a good definition of A is either even/up in raw, or close to even in raw with some kind of compelling historical context. Let's hope the average decline doesn't speed up much more... 
  • The list in general is a rough guideline, but I would say everything from C- down is extra rough. These are all different ways of saying "it got way weaker," so there's a lot of subjectivity in parsing that out. I don't really stick to a script here.
New Shows

I feel pretty locked in with the returnee spectrum above, but I'm doing grades with new shows for the first time this year, so this is probably a little more subject to change. Maybe some different form of inspiration will strike. Anyway, there's no previous context for new shows, so they have to be compared against a more generic standard. Basically it's just my personal interpretation of the ratings merit relative to its network/situation. (That doesn't necessarily match up with what actually happens in the renew/cancel world, since we're just talking ratings.) My approach has been to put the "bubble" at a C grade and work from there.

Here's the (again, rough) new show standard:

A+: Something truly freaky. (Think Empire season one.)
A thru A-: Breakouts of the season. Would think almost every year has at least one A-, but there are probably several years historically without any outright A's.
B+ thru B: Significant successes/lock renewals.
B- thru C+: Worthy renewals but not much more.
C: Renew/cancel could go either way.
C- thru D+: Likely cancellations, but still in the renewal discussion.
D thru D-: Significant failures. Maybe not pulled outright but a candidate for an episode reduction.
F: The pull-me-now crowd. Usually these shows are DOA and then rejected even among the few who show up.

So there you go. Perhaps publishing this will just rile people up even more, but I thought some might find it interesting.

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