Monday, September 30, 2019

Renewology Week 1: A Very Bad Premiere Week

I usually use this weekly column space to really dig into the weeds of individual bubble shows. We will be doing some of that later on in this post.

But this has been a week in which the big picture really has to be addressed at the top, because it has been an uncommonly dire one. We obviously need more data before getting a strong sense of just how bad, but the news was moderately discouraging even in the realm of usually reliable returning players. It's a rough sign when things like The Voice, One Chicago and Grey's Anatomy are returning with 10-20% year-to-year declines and being hailed as some of the biggest winners of the entire week.

However, the returnees have not been the real story. Whatever their drops end up being, everyone will have to live with it. The real story has been the rather wholesale rejection of the new network offerings. This does not seem to be a "general decline of linear ratings" story, but rather a particularly terrible class. There had been little indication prior to this year that broadcast was having trouble getting new shows sampled, at least on a relative basis. Maybe that will become a trend, but you wouldn't expect it to happen all in one year like this.

This is the best way I can think to describe it in relative terms. In each of the last six seasons, there has been at least one megahit newbie episode (an individual episode that rated at least two times the eventual league average for the season) in the first week of the new season.

2013-14The Blacklist202
2013-14Agents of SHIELD250
2013-14The Crazy Ones207
2014-15How to Get Away with Murder226
2016-17Kevin Can Wait210
2016-17This Is Us229
2017-18The Good Doctor200
2017-18Young Sheldon349

That's 10 of these in six years. (Also 12 in eight years, if you go back to 2011 and throw in 2 Broke Girls and New Girl.) Now, what you might notice is that there are a lot of The Big Bang Theory and The Voice lead-outs here. One of those is gone and one diminished. In general, there were not a lot of big lead-ins being given to these new shows, so maybe expecting megahit premieres is too high a standard.

So let's say we lower the standard to big hit (a 150 Plus or higher) over those same six years. Now we're talking about twenty-six cases, including at least three in each season and a whooping seven during Premiere Week 2016.

What about hit premieres (125 or higher)? There are thirty-seven of those in the last six years: at least five every single year! Hit premieres aren't that hard to achieve historically. MacGyver did it on a Friday. Quantico did it on a Sunday at 10/9c. SEAL Team, Single Parents, God Friended Me did it.

So where am I going with this? Well, our biggest series premiere thus far in 2019 is Prodigal Son with a 0.96. That's not going to be a megahit (would take a league average of 0.48). As bad as broadcast has looked, it's still very unlikely to be a big hit (would take a 0.64). To even be a hit, to even give us one newbie hit episode so far in premiere week 2019 would take a league average of 0.77, down 19% from last year. Remember, we've had five of these each of the last six years.

But what premiere week 2019 has given us is essentially a bunch of episodes that appear to be doing OK given their situations, and would be considered reasonably successful if that's where they settled. The problem is that this is usually not a good place to be on series premiere night, because new shows tend to drop a lot from their premiere ratings. Maybe this year will be different, and there will be a bunch of uncommonly strong post-premiere holds because everything is so weak out of the gate. Historically, though, there is not that strong a correlation between the size of the premiere and the size of the post-premiere drop; some DOA shows have fallen a lot, and some awesome premieres have held up awesomely (most memorably Empire). So there's not a lot of reason to be optimistic thus far.

I say all of this not to be a Debbie Downer, but to set up what it means for a statistical model like Renewology. The big takeaway is that the first week of the model has found itself in the somewhat uncomfortable position of being way off in its preseason estimates, to a much greater extent than in past years. The projected league average is probably going to drop by about three hundredths*, and presumably the Renewology targets will follow suit. That means week two newbies that appear to be taking a standard drop will likely get a big boost in R%. Putting out these overly-low R% numbers has been an interesting snapshot of what things would look like if broadcast were healthier in general, but there will be changes coming to reflect the reality on the ground. So for purposes of the next section, I think it is gonna be more helpful to look at the R% in relation to each other, rather than as absolute numbers. There might be a lot of early-season movement in the targets.

*- On the league average drop: even this rather large adjustment from 0.83 to an anticipated 0.80ish is only a fraction of the adjustment that would be made if we were purely looking at the numbers from this week. I made this change a couple years ago, and it's going to matter more than ever this year: in week one, the LA projection is still 3/4 the preseason estimate, and 1/4 the estimate using this year's ratings. So the actual LA being suggested if we just used the premiere week ratings is somewhere in the 0.70-0.75 range. The consolation is that I think the networks did less than usual to juice their premiere week ratings this year, so maybe we can expect a better hold. (For example, last year had two nights of Big Bang/Sheldon, a two-hour SVU, a two-hour Grey's, and we didn't see stuff like Child Support, Alec Baldwin, Midnight, Texas, and I Feel Bad during premiere week. This year, we did get a two-hour Masked Singer, but for the most part we saw the fall sked in all its ugliness.)

ABC's Comedy Mess
American Housewife78%0.800.690.57127%
Bless This Mess48%0.650.560.57127%35%
Single Parents34%0.590.510.57132%36%
Fresh Off the Boat28%0.580.500.57127%

Just to say something positive in this post, American Housewife and Black-ish are a couple shows that could've conceivably bombed out, but instead were arguably among the biggest overachievers of the premiere week, and for now have a healthy lead on the rest of this pack.

Mixed-ish probably had the best newbie performance of the week, but is still mired in Schooled/Bless This Mess territory in R% because as a freshman it is expected to drop much more post-premiere. Bless This Mess looked quite a bit like The Kids Are Alright on premiere night, which does not bode well, but that show pretty much remained in bubble territory in Renewology as well...

The CBS Comedy Newbies
Bob Hearts Abishola39%0.760.590.62119%41%
Carol's Second Act26%0.700.540.62116%36%
The Unicorn25%0.690.540.62118%37%

The funny thing here is that the CBS comedy department was one of the places where I made a tweak to the preseason projections to benefit them before the season, because I expected the department would look a lot weaker in a post-The Big Bang Theory world. But it looks like that adjustment was not enough, and so I'd take the over on all of these percentages. Bob Hearts, perhaps more than any other show, has looked better as the carnage has transpired across the rest of the week.

The Drama Contenders
Prodigal Son32%0.750.530.62131%37%

All these shows looked pretty similar on premiere night; they would be comfortable renewals for a regular, settled episode but are not really where you want to be for a series premiere. Evil was the weakest of the four, but jumps up into the same R% tier as the ABC shows because Renewology expects CBS shows to drop a bit less than non-CBS shows.

Emergence was Truly the strongest of the four, and given the week's general awfulness you could make the argument it was only a bit worse than The Rookie's premiere last year. It's definitely better than Kevin (Probably) Saves the World from two years ago and presumably will do much better in DVR. The concern is that this is the kind of show historically that does not hold up well post-premiere. It has a little cushion, but it obviously cannot withstand a Manifest-level post-premiere rejection.

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