No, not The Walking Dead, though there is definitely a story to be told about how it became the number one show on television-not just on cable, but all of television. No, this article is about the Walking Dead, those shows that have pretty much no chance of being renewed for next season and are pulling in terrible, cancelation-worthy ratings, but are being allowed to play out the string for the remainder of their initial episode order. There are myriad reasons for why these shows don’t get canceled, but the most common is that the networks simply cancel everything, and networks would rather save their replacement shows for the spring, when they can give them a properly marketed launch.
The most obvious dead show walking this year has been Hostages. Launching at 9:00 on Mondays (a timeslot that got Hawaii Five-0 shipped Fridays), Hostages was likely always doomed. But the speed at which it reached the point of no return was remarkable. It debuted to a low, but passable for 9:00, 1.8 rating before quickly plummeting from there. Hostages is, at this point, the lowest rated show on CBS, which is pretty remarkable given how much the network is struggling on Friday and Sunday nights. And yet it still limps along, pulling in ratings that would make even NBC blanch.
There are a couple of reasons, it seems, that CBS is allowing Hostages to keep airing episodes, but the most important is that CBS already has that timeslot earmarked for another show, Intelligence, in the spring. You see, CBS decided to get into the timeslot-sharing business this year with a pair of limited-run series both occupying the same slot. Hostages was intended to run for 13 episodes in the fall and winter, with Intelligence taking over in February to run for 13 episodes of its own. It’s a model adapted from cable and something many people had been clamoring for for a while. But Hostages shows the problems with that model: namely, that it becomes logistically difficult to pull a struggling show from the schedule.
When We Are Men had problems earlier this year (though as I mentioned earlier those problems were less about Men and more about 2 Broke Girls), CBS was able to pull the plug and slot in Mike and Molly without really skipping a beat. But with Hostages, CBS doesn’t want to debut Intelligence early (without the support of the NFL playoffs for promotion) and it doesn’t have any shows that can fill in for eight or nine weeks this winter. So Hostages will lumber along, earning weak ratings until its 13 episodes are done, after which few will talk about it ever again unless CBS decides to commit Emmy category fraud and submit Toni Collette for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Movie.
In other news, the first of week of sweeps is in the book and it was a rough one for CBS. They were down 25 percent from the first week last year, though it’s important to note that the LSU-Alabama football game was on in primetime during the first week of sweeps in 2012 and the second week this year. Factoring that in, the network would have been down only nine percent. The good news is that it looks like CBS’s slide has slowed in recent weeks with the network actually ticking up this week in the year-to-year ratings. Most of its shows were also up week-to-week, with only Mom showing significant declines owing mostly to the loss of its The Big Bang Theory leadin.
While Hostages is an example of a network unable to cancel a show because of future scheduling plans, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland and Betrayal are perfect demonstrations of the mantra that “they can’t cancel everything.” As I’ve mentioned before, just being a bit below average is typically enough to get a show renewed. But these two shows are well below average and are two of the three lowest-rated shows on the network (The Neighbors is the lowest but gets a great deal of leeway airing on Fridays).
So why are they still on the air? To put it simply, ABC can’t cancel everything and they’ve already given the axe to Lucky 7. There’s also been a hesitancy in recent years to launch new series in November and December without much promotion, meaning networks are reluctant to replace a failed new series with a series that doesn’t have an established audience. CBS can put Mike and Molly on to replace We Are Men without any trouble because it knows, roughly, what the show will bring in demographically. Likewise, if one of ABC’s comedies had failed, they could have brought back Suburgatory in its place (which it appears will likely be happening with Back in the Game). But without any returning dramas on the bench, ABC is forced to let Wonderland and Betrayal continue pulling in terrible ratings. Neither is likely to be pulled from the schedule at this point, but nor are they going to air any more episodes beyond their initial order.
As I mentioned last week, ABC’s ratings dropped temporarily owing to the Country Music Awards airing one week later this year and those awards provided a huge boost to the network this week, putting them up 17 percent from 2012's first sweeps week and keeping ABC just below last year’s ratings. The network still has issues (especially with half its new shows bombing and the other half now struggling a bit), but there are definitely signs of life at ABC.
Thanks to Sean Saves the World receiving an order for five more episodes, NBC doesn’t technically have a walking dead show. Perhaps it’s because the network has enough versatile shows (specifically The Voice, Dateline, and Saturday Night Live specials) that the network can just put a troublesome show on hiatus for a few weeks (hello, Parks and Rec) without it seeming like the beginning of the end. Then again, given what’s happening with Sean and The Michael J Fox Show right now, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Community and Parks and Rec once again standing atop the sitcom rubble come May.
NBC won the first week of sweeps this season, though it can’t be seen in an entirely positive light. The Voice has entered its semiannual swoon, now that the show has switched from its game show format to its singing competition. The ratings are still pretty great, with the show putting up a 3.6 and a 3.4 in its four regularly-scheduled hours this week, but NBC has only had one week so far this season when its ratings increased from week-to-week, and it’s known for struggling during the slow winter months, so it needs to end 2013 on a high note.
Can we talk about The X-Factor for a minute? Because we need to talk about The X-Factor. I wrote in my season preview for Fox that I believed the show was in serious trouble, but even I wasn’t willing to predict that the show would drop as far as a 1.2 rating. Yes, it is entirely possible that having The Voice air a new episode opposite the show this week is responsible for much of that incredibly poor rating. But The Voice doesn’t explain the 1.5 X-Factor put up on Wednesday. If Almost Human is a hit (which I’m skeptical about) I see no reason for The X-Factor to be on next season’s fall schedule. If Human fails then, at best, I see The X-Factor scaling back to one night per week, like Fox did with So You Think You Can Dance or ABC did with Dancing with the Stars this year.
Without the MLB playoffs offering ten nights of very good ratings for Fox, the network is suffering once again. After a brief jump into second place last week, Fox is teetering on the edge of last place after just one week of terrible ratings. At this point, I have a hard time seeing even the NFL playoffs saving FOX this year. I was certain they would win the season among adults 18-49, but they’re going to need a big boost from The Following and American Idol to pull that off.
Season to Date Network Rating Averages (Adults 18-49) –
NBC – 2.69 (Down 4.4% YTD, Down 2.0% Week-to-Week, Down 16.0% from Premiere Week)
Fox – 2.05 (Down 0.1% YTD, Down 4.6% Week-to-Week, Down 6.6% from Premiere Week)
CBS – 2.04 (Down 8.1% YTD, Down 0.5% Week-to-Week, Down 31.3% from Premiere Week)
ABC – 2.03 (Down 5.4% YTD, Up 2.6% Week-to-Week, Down 23.9% from Premiere Week)
New Renewals, Pickups, and Cancelations –
Sean Saves the World – Five Episodes Ordered
So thoughts? Comments? Just want to tell me my blog sucks? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.