It seems like the fall television season has only just begun and yet we’re already into that do or die time of year called November “sweeps.”
Yeah, yeah, I know, in the modern era the sweeps period is no longer the benchmark it used to be. Overnight ratings analysis, internet fansite message boards, and Twitter and Facebook rants give a network and producers a near real time snapshot of just how their new baby shows are faring. But old tricks die hard for the media industry and while their final decisions aren’t solely influenced by this tense month of weekly ratings analysis, a show – especially a fledgling, struggling baby show – can make or break itself by mere tenths of a ratings point.
Because I’m a nerd – a nerd who loved school – given that the fall television season coincides with the start of a school year, I always likened the November Sweeps period to the midterm exams for freshman shows on the bubble. Shows already passing with high marks (shows already given their back nine or full season order) can cruise on through to the winter break, but for those shows pulling a C or below, it’s time to get their act together. Producers of freshman shows often put their best foot forward in November, showcasing a lot of stunt casting and teasing pivotal story twists with the hope of luring in new viewers. They also aim to lure back viewers they may have lost since the show’s premiere in order to raise their weekly exam scores (aka ratings) so that their monthly average gives them a passing grade, thereby allowing them to stay in the game.
A number of new shows will coast through exams: ABC’s The Neighbors, CBS’s Vegas and Elementary, NBC’s Revolution, Go On, and The New Normal, FOX’s Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project, and The CW’s Arrow have all been picked up for full seasons. Some of those passing grades do seem a liiiitle suspect (I’m looking at you still dropping in ratings Ben and Kate) but most of the shows earned their full seasons and can focus on nailing their final exams come May 2013.
Surprisingly, so far only two shows have been, shall we say, pulled from the program for not fitting in from the get go: CBS’s Made in Jersey and NBC’s Animal Practice. Personally, I found both shows enjoyable and wish they’d had longer to try to recoup from their poor performance. But like a student in a class that just isn’t the ‘right fit’ for them, things were only going to get worse for MiJ and AP with their solid ratings decline. Rather than extend the pain, they were respectfully asked to leave. FOX’s Mob Doctor is about to get that same talk – although if hearing that Kevin Bacon’s The Following was going to take its spot come January 2013 didn’t already make it clear, the Doctor is in denial.
Of the remaining ten freshman shows, we have one comedy that is a late starter: Reba McEntire’s Malibu Country which premieres this Friday, November 2nd (unless ABC decides to bump it in favor of Hurricane Sandy coverage). Reviews have not been so kind to Miss Reba’s latest comedy, but then again, reviews weren’t favorable for her Reba show when it debuted on The WB and you know what? It was not only good, it was awesome. Yeah, I said it- awesome. And it aired for six funny seasons. So I wouldn’t count Miss Reba “I’m a survivor!’ out just yet. Still, the show is banking on coming out swinging on a Friday night, so if it doesn’t do decent numbers, ABC may develop an itchy trigger finger… however, given the network’s patience with Happy Endings, perhaps Malibu Country will also get a fair shake.
That leaves us with eight remaining shows that need to exhibit some serious staying power before Turkey Day or they’re in for a blue Christmas: ABC’s Last Resort, Nashville and 666 Park Avenue; NBC’s Chicago Fire and Guys With Kids; CBS’s Partners; and The CW’s Beauty and the Beast and Emily Owens, M.D.
NBC’s Guys With Kids and Chicago Fire are at the high end of this group of earnest, hard working students. While not a witty show like most of the NBC comedies, GwK’s is a solid performer that surprisingly built its ratings out of Animal Practice - which means it has a core, building audience. Always a good thing in a network’s eyes. Chicago Fire has also stabilized in its ratings, even if on the low side. Working in its favor is that it’s on NBC, a network likely to be more patient since it’s in rebuilding mode. And unlike Nashville, its ABC competition, Chicago Fire had little to no expectations of being THE hit of the fall television season. Low expectations and decent ratings give Chicago Fire a little edge. GwK and CF just need to keep on keepin’ on with their current ratings (or do better) and they’ll pass their midterms to get their full season order.
ABC’s collection of struggling shows is a little harder to predict. Last Resort has lost some steam despite the engaging story and premise ramping up; it’s on the cusp of another Flash Forward. Still pulling the plug on such an expensive show without giving it a full season to prove itself may be loath to the ABC brass. If it stabilizes in ratings for November, it may get the pass and a relaunch in the new year to see if it can bring in new viewers and find a second wind. 666 Park Avenue is a spooky little show with a stellar cast but just has not caught on with viewers. This one seems like the one to go ahead and boot, and yet given its relatively low expense (compared to Last Resort), it may be the cheapest way to keep an hour filled on the schedule and give it more time to attract an audience. Nashville is the real head scratcher, as once again, a critically acclaimed show deemed the best new drama of the season (Like FOX’s Lonestar and NBC’s Awake) just landed with a thud for the viewers. Well, it premiered pretty well, and then plummeted off a cliff in its second week. What’s not to love about this show, I ask you? I’m sure the producers and ABC brass are asking as well, because if you don’t know what’s broken on the show, how do you fix it? A few things in Nashville’s favor is that it started late in the season, so ABC is going to want to give it more time; plus, it’s an expensive property to just pull after a handful of episodes. In all of these shows’ favor is the upcoming end of Private Practice, which will already leave one hole in programming- they’re not going to want to deal with up to four holes to fill. I’d say at least two of the three shows will live past November with my money on Last Resort and Nashville.
Now we’re left with three shows that, based on their ratings, probably have no business still being on television. But they are shows I love dearly and am hoping the networks will take pity on: Partners, Beauty and the Beast, and Emily Owens, M.D. Given The CW grades on a HUGE curve, I’m pretty optimistic Beauty and the Beast and Emily Owens, M.D. will at least get 13 episode seasons and maybe a few more. Why? Because they’re doing about as well as the other shows on the air (save for star pupil Arrow and The Vampire Diaries), Gossip Girl is ending in December and they already barely have enough shows to fill their time slots. Plus, they can’t bank on midseason Cult or The Carrie Diaries doing any worse (although Emily Owens at just over 1 million total viewers is about as bad as they want it to get). Like Ringer and Hellcats before them, BatB and EO,MD will get the pass so that the entire CW network as a whole won’t fail.
CBS’s Partners, unfortunately, is on a brutally ruthless network that only deals in star pupils with nary a B student in sight – and this poor show is pulling at best a C- in terms of ratings. It’s a crater on the CBS Monday night line-up; people actively tune out of How I Met Your Mother and then tune back in to watch 2 Broke Girls. Ouch. Personally, I think it has a lot of potential and I surprisingly enjoy Brandon Routh as the hot, gay, Mormon boyfriend of Michael Urie. If this show were on a different network (say, the CW, CBS’s sister network, which had claimed it’s now interested in developing comedies again and has space on its line-up:: hint,hint::) it would have a shot of getting that back nine. However, with Rules of Engagement waiting on the bench (a show that has an amazingly resilient and sizable audience that will follow it anywhere), Partners, sadly at least to me, will probably bow out by the end of this month.
Now that I’ve given you a full run down of how I think the freshmen shows will fare, voice your choice and tell us which of these new shows you are most hoping makes the November Sweeps cut?
Emily Owens M.D.
Guys With Kids