If youre a producer on a new network TV show, and youre still churning out episodes come Thanksgiving, this is indeed a time to give thanks.
By AARON BARNHART
The Kansas City Star
Youre not on the phone with your agent looking for a new gig, and those studio paychecks will buy a lot of Christmas cheer.
But if youre a viewer, its a more tenuous time. After all, youve invested several hours in one of these new programs, knowing that the big payoff wont come until next spring, when the characters and story lines play out to a satisfying season-ending conclusion if it lasts that long.
When Im on my social networks, the question I get asked more than any other is: Should I keep watching (your favorite new show here), or is it about to get canceled?
Well get to those shows in a moment. First, though, its important to understand that executives at the major networks are not judges on Americas Got Talent. They dont make snap decisions. They are risk managers overseeing portfolios with assets that start in the multimillions and escalate to $100 million a year for established hits.
They dont, contrary to legend, suffer from itchy trigger fingers. They cancel only after taking several measures of a show: budget, ratings trends, the quality of upcoming scripts and whats waiting in the wings. When a show gets a quick hook, as NBCs The Playboy Club did this fall, you can bet that all these factors are going south.
(By the way, if youve wondered why cable TV shows almost never get canceled mid-season, its because they have shorter seasons and smaller budgets and are targeted at niche audiences. All of this reduces financial risk, which allows executives to take bigger creative risks. The top of the cable ratings is loaded with edgy fare: AMCs Walking Dead, FXs Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story, Comedy Centrals Tosh.0 and Bravos Real Housewives of Atlanta.)
Handicapping a network shows odds of survival is kind of like guessing whether youll enjoy Thanksgiving: it all depends on the relatives.
For instance, in a typical TV ratings story youll learn how a show did relative to other shows in the same time period and whether its trending upward or downward as the season progresses. But those are only two relative measures of a shows success.
A more telling measure, I would argue, is how the show is doing relative to other shows on the same network.
In the accompanying box, Ive used each networks average prime-time rating for Sunday through Thursday when viewing levels are highest as a baseline. Anything that falls significantly below that line is probably not performing up to that networks standards. (I look at ratings for viewers ages 18-49 because that, broadly speaking, is the audience advertisers care about.)
For instance, ABCs teen soap Revenge and Foxs dino-drama Terra Nova are both averaging a 2.7 rating. In other words, each show is watched by 2.7 percent of the 18- to 49-year-old population. That is only 7 percent off the 2.9 rating that third-place ABC averages during the week, but its 21 percent below the 3.4 average for Fox, TVs top-rated network.
Based on this data, and the fact that Terra Nova is laden with expensive CGI work, Id say the show with T-rexes is facing extinction while Revenge may get the last laugh.
CBS, meanwhile, placed a big bet this season on dramas about people with exceptional talents: Unforgettable, Person of Interest, A Gifted Man and returning show The Mentalist. But theyre all performing well below the average for crime-drama-heavy CBS. Two of these four genius shows might make it to next season, but thats just my guess (and Im no genius).
Then theres NBC.
How far has the former No. 1 network fallen? Put it this way: If not for Sunday, NBC would probably be in fifth place behind Spanish-language Univision.
In fact, every single prime-time NBC show other than sports is at or below the networks average of 2.9. That number, of course, is skewed by Sunday Night Football, far and away televisions most popular program this fall.
But using NBC's
mean median rating instead of its average rating effectively excludes the outlier of NFL programming and yields a number that more accurately reflects NBCs woeful overall lineup.
The median for NBC just 2.0 (the rating for the unfunny comedy Up All Night). To give you some idea, almost nothing is allowed to stay on ABC, CBS or Fox if it scores below 2.0 in the 18-to-49 demographic. Yet half of NBC shows are in this no-mans land or were. Last week Prime Suspect was shut down and Community went on hiatus, though it will probably return.
I cant imagine running an NBC station is much fun these days. But Mike Vrabac, general manager of Kansas Citys KSHB, said that the Today show and his local newscasts where KSHB makes most of its money are up compared to a year ago.
Were worrying about what we can control, Vrabac said philosophically. We do have the Super Bowl and the Olympics, and NBC has The Voice coming back in January. Im hoping that if we get a little uptick it will be better.
One last relativity variable to consider is the weekend, or as I call it in the accompanying box, The Weak End.
Because the number of people who even watch prime time on Friday and Saturday has declined steeply, networks are loath to spend any money on those nights. That means reruns and cheap-to-produce shows.
No network enjoys much of an advantage on weekends, so what few original shows there are on those nights Ive thrown together. Anything below the
mean median rating that isnt reality TV is probably toast.
Of course, things could always change in the next 31 weeks. But dont be surprised if many of these underperforming shows are gone by seasons end.
Its your DVR and your free time. Spend it wisely.