Monday, February 4, 2019

Renewology Week 19: What's Changed Since the Fall?

Continuing our revisitation theme from last week, this week's Renewology column will take a look back at some of the more interesting bubble issues from the fall. The two areas that got a lot of chatter in these posts during the fall were CBS dramas and ABC comedies, so we'll visit both of those in some depth. Plus, a few words on the CW's mass renewal. There are at least a couple other shows that have changed a lot since the fall that I wanted to discuss (Manifest and How to Get Away with Murder), but this was running long. Maybe next week!

The CBS Drama Mess, Revisited
Criminal Minds87%0.850.850.691421%39%
SEAL Team79%0.800.800.691320%47%
Magnum P.I.60%0.730.720.691420%46%
God Friended Me55%0.730.710.691316%45%
Madam Secretary41%0.660.660.691314%42%

I thought Magnum P.I. vs. God Friended Me might be one of the biggest head-to-head questions heading into the upfront madness, but CBS took that intrigue off the table by renewing them both before the end of January! I have often tried to drill home in these columns that having a bunch of shows slightly above 50% is not the same thing as predicting that all of them will be renewed together, so I should also make note of that here when it works against me. Magnum and GFM were both in the 50's when renewed, which means the model went "2-0" if you're using a traditional win-loss record, but having two shows barely over 50 is supposed to be a message that it's quite likely one of the two will be cancelled.

You could probably read the scheduling tea leaves (namely the berth after the AFC Championship) and see that Magnum was in better shape than its ratings suggested. And God Friended Me, after spending chunks of the fall below 50%, had looked markedly better after the new year, significantly widening its growth vs. year-ago flop Wisdom of the Crowd. Even in the fall, I was advocating for both shows to get an episode extension, which was not necessarily a popular opinion at the time. But I still thought neither one looked like a slam dunk for renewal, based on how the model perceives CBS to act. To get both renewed this early seems... generous.

There's also an alternative, which is that CBS will throw in some "surprise" cancellations to get us back in line with how many shows we would expect them to renew/cancel. Could the scandal-ridden Bull get back on the chopping block, even though it avoided getting pulled in the depths of its worst news cycle? Might one of the sophomores SEAL Team or S.W.A.T. still be in danger? I would readily buy that, except that both shows seem to have simultaneously turned some kind of corner in the late fall/early winter and are looking noticeably stronger than before. They're still not great, but (particularly in SEAL's case) if CBS could renew them and return them to the same slots last year, they don't really look like cancels based on what we're seeing lately. Or maybe CBS actually does away with Madam Secretary, the show I've said since literally the day I introduced the model is immune to the ratings pressures that make Renewology work in other areas. Shrug!

One last note: CBS took another piece of expected upfront drama off the board with the wayyy earlier than usual renewal for a final season of Criminal Minds. I was long convinced this would someday become one of the model's biggest misses, a situation like the end of Last Man Standing on ABC. Instead, this renewal plus a pre-announced ending for next year ensures we will never miss on it, and fortunately managed to be correct to trust in its strong ratings all along. Whew.

The ABC Comedy Mess, Revisited
Fresh Off the Boat75%0.760.750.671326%42%
Single Parents69%0.740.730.671434%39%
The Kids Are Alright51%0.690.670.671127%38%
Splitting Up Together50%0.670.670.671131%35%

ABC's comedy mess is not really that different, in Renewology terms, from how it looked in the fall. With the exception of when it got a big bump for its Halloween episode, The Kids Are Alright has always been listed pretty much right on the bubble. Splitting Up Together was kinda schizophrenic in its first month, but has been eerily close to 50% for a couple months now. Speechless is still a modest underdog, and Single Parents is still a modest favorite. (Single Parents has had some shaky points lately, but I think the DVR numbers still consistently bear out the idea that it is a stronger show than Kids and Splitting.)

I get the sense that all this is sort of a contrarian opinion; I feel like I've seen several people say Single Parents, TKAA and Splitting are dunzo across the board. If that is really what ends up happening, that will probably have to go down as a loss for the model. If one of the three survives, plus Speechless for syndication reasons, I could make the case that's about right in terms of the total number of renewals. (The R% for those four shows adds up to two renewals, almost exactly on the dot.) But a wipeout would be unexpected. ABC is going to be interesting to watch this year because the network as a whole is weakening, due to less strength at the top of the totem pole plus a slew of unscripted flops, and yet they are kinda stunningly lacking in scripted flops. Say what you want about these shows, but I would still put 'em well ahead of shows like The Mayor or Alex, Inc. from last year. Will ABC just drain out the sea of mediocrity, or stick with some of it? Remains to be seen.

In terms of what's changed since the fall, like I said before, not that much has happened with the aforementioned four shows. The change is really happening with old hands Fresh Off the Boat and Black-ish. Fresh has been looking better and better all the time since its rocky start on Friday, from a stint in light red to now getting close to dark green. Meanwhile, Black-ish has gone the opposite way; it looked peachy for the first month or so, but it seemed to fall off a cliff around that point and has never really recovered. It's getting into territory where I would not be that surprised to see it as a "surprise" cancellation, even though I don't think it's on anyone's radar.

Recapping the CW's Renewal Wave
Black Lightning96%0.310.310.241141%49%
Legends of Tomorrow95%0.320.330.24842%53%
All American57%

If Renewology lucked out to go "2-0" with God Friended Me and Magnum P.I., the ratings gods taketh away by renewing Dynasty in a week when it happened to be below 50%, despite being above the mark for quite a bit of the fall. (It was 42% at the time, 48% with this week's result.) The difference between being 42% and above 50% on the CDub is less than a hundredth of a ratings point, so I just have to shrug and take the "L" on this one. If All American gets cancelled (probably more likely after missing out on the announcement, but not a done deal), I'll feel fine about this; there were two shows in toss-up territory at this point in the year, and one was renewed and one cancelled. That's what should happen with toss-ups, and it's not a big deal to me that the wrong one was over 50 at the time. But if AA gets renewed, maybe the already generous CW targets will have to get even more generous......?

For the most part, telling the model to be generous with the CW was vindicated once again, as the 9/8c occupants that feel somewhat mediocre like Black Lightning, Legends of Tomorrow, Charmed and Legacies absolutely sailed to renewal. In this case, maybe the model is smarter than me, because I was not completely convinced that the CW wouldn't look to do away with one of the lower-tier superhero shows.

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