Wednesday, May 2, 2018

2018 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, April 30.

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

The Comedy Favorites
Splitting Up Together86%
Fresh Off the Boat80%0.970.990.861934%40%

Splitting Up Together: It's rather striking how much DVR interest there has been in this show. It's been getting a 0.7-0.8 bump in Live+7, which is as much as anything in the comedy world outside of the "big five" DVR gainers (Roseanne, Big Bang, Modern Fam, Will and Grace and Young Sheldon). For comparison, its fellow comedies in this tier Fresh Off the Boat and Speechless typically only get about 0.4. So while we'll never know what would've happened if not for the Roseanne explosion, it strikes me that this is something more than just an "it's living off of Roseanne's coattails" story. Maybe I will look dumb if it tanked coming out of the off week last night, but it should really be back.

Speechless / Fresh Off the Boat: Both these shows got their episode orders reduced, which has created a lot of anxiety about where they are going to end up. If Speechless actually gets the axe, it would be two straight years that an ABC comedy in the 90s has gotten the axe (joining Last Man Standing), so I may have to re-evaluate how harsh ABC is in that department, or increase how much lead-ins are weighted, or something. I do think that after they were about even in the fall, Speechless emerged as the somewhat clearly stronger of these two shows after the new year. Maybe there is some syndication concern that gets FotB the edge, but ratings-wise I would choose Speechless if only one could survive. Again, given the network's drama situation, both should survive. And the Disney/Fox deal could be of some assistance here since both are at least part-owned by 20th.

The Drama Favorites
Designated Survivor73%0.890.870.791923%42%
Agents of SHIELD56%0.810.810.791833%52%

Designated Survivor: This one has managed to stay in renewal favorite territory despite the ratings getting ugly. 10:00 is hard, especially with a really incompatible lead-in skew-wise, and ABC dramas have the lowest target of any department on the big four. The 0.5 last week is hard to defend, and the True score on that one episode would actually be a touch below the bubble. But it's still just one episode out of seven in the rolling average; there are still three 0.7's in there until tonight. ABC renews a lot of weak dramas, and even at its current level, it is not nearly as bad a situation as Quantico was; that was getting 0.5-0.6 a full year ago with high-1 lead-ins. That show's DVR lifts had really fallen off, while Designated continues to clear 100% gains in Live+7 pretty comfortably. In other words... if they could renew Quantico last year, this one shouldn't be all that surprising or offensive.

The problem is that even if there's still sort of a ratings case right now, the declines are so severe that it's only going to become a bigger problem. It feels much the same way Once Upon a Time did at this time last year, in that regard. So if the back-end money is too much to pass up, I would hope that it gets something closer to the Quantico treatment, rather than relying heavily on it like they did with Once.

Agents of SHIELD: Basically in the same boat as Designated, except a bit weaker in True. Ekeing out a 0.6 in finals a few weeks ago has lifted it from right around 50% to a narrow favorite in R%. I don't see its Friday timeslot as that much of a downgrade from Tuesday 10/9c with a bad lead-in last year, and its DVR gains are fairly similar. But this model was high on its chances last year as well! It's a touch stronger than the newbies in the tier below, and their collective struggles may work to SHIELD's advantage. But it's very close to a toss-up.

The Midseason Pity Party
For the People31%0.720.720.79633%33%
The Crossing27%0.710.690.79522%37%
Alex, Inc.23%0.740.740.86732%39%

I had a spiel in this post for days about how interchangeable these shows seemed, but of course that couldn't last, and there has been at least a little separation in the last two evenings with Deception's 0.8 and then The Crossing's 0.5. Can ABC just axe all of this mess? I think that they can, because they always have Station 19 to point to as a renewal. But with three dramas that average close to a third in R%, Renewology thinks it is most likely that one survives. The Crossing held up decently for a genre show for a little while, but Monday's 0.5 brought a quick end to that. For the People showed a bit of spunk in the early Roseanne weeks, though not so much anymore (and I always thought it was a little overblown). My philosophy is always that if there is no meaningful difference, the network will go with the one they treated the best from the start, and that would be Deception. If anything, Deception now seems like it may have a little advantage ratings-wise, albeit an insignificant one. In the end, this is one of those situations where they all seem like reaches individually, but the combined odds make it likely that something sneaks through.

Alex, Inc.: I said on Alex premiere night that your thoughts on Alex kind of depend on your thoughts on Speechless. I think Speechless should be a no-brainer renewal, so I had trouble writing off Alex in the early weeks when it was basically doing just a tenth or two worse than Speechless would. A bit worse than a no-brainer is not that bad! But... then came the episodes after repeats. I'm fairly surprised it actually fell that much, but there's really no good spin to put on it. And it's the polar opposite of Splitting Up Together in terms of DVR interest.

The Trailers
Kevin (Probably) Saves the World15%0.650.650.791632%37%

Kevin was a show that Renewology liked pretty much throughout the fall, but abandoned ship when it didn't get any kind of winter bounce and the ABC targets started shooting upwards. When we thought the league average was going to be a 1.00ish, Kevin doing a 0.73 average in the fall actually stacks up fairly well compared to a lot of the historical occupants. But as ABC and the league average have gotten healthier, those numbers have looked worse. Maybe it should be a bit higher because the True scores during the Olympics and after The Bachelor were really low. But overall, I'm actually pretty happy with the R% trajectory. ABC seemed to be holding out hope deep into the fall as well, and gave up on it promotionally at about the same time as Renewology. If you throw out the outliers, maybe you can make the case Kevin belongs on about the same tier as the low-rated midseason dramas. But I think Kevin needed them to bomb even harder for ABC to take another hard look.

Just a quick housekeeping note on Quantico, along with the very late-season CBS entries Elementary and Code Black: I'm putting up what their R% are in this model just for fun, but it's very possible these are now "off-cycle" shows that will not be decided at the upfront and should not be judged by regular season standards. (And I'm not doing Ransom at all just because I don't want to have to dig up PUT estimates for Saturday night.) I guess I will throw them into the evaluation of the model next year if they are decided at the upfront, but clearly Quantico and Elementary decisions have nothing to do with ratings anyway.

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