TV’s bubble troubles
It’s not the first time a much-praised series has struggled to find a mass audience. But it’s why Arrested is one of 19 shows hovering “on the bubble” between renewal and cancellation in USA TODAY’s eighth annual Save Our Shows survey, even as its own network is lobbying to save it.
A new Web site, www.getarrested.com, urges viewers to aid its return by circulating “pledges” to watch Sunday’s season finale (Fox, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT).
Fox has “always been pulling for us,” says creator Mitchell Hurwitz. But “everything on this show has always been such a long shot. That’s why I’m not too panicked. It’s just been the karma of the show.”
While Arrested has had two seasons to prove itself, other iffy series this year have had far less time to gain traction in their quest for renewal.
ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy is an exception √≥ an instant hit that virtually guaranteed a second season with its strong premiere. But futures of ABC’s Eyes, Fox’s Life on a Stick and NBC’s The Office are less certain.
In an effort to avoid crowded rollouts, networks increasingly are staggering their premieres. This season, that has meant several dramas and sitcoms started in late March and April, sometimes in time slots that once would have gone to short-run reality shows.
These newcomers have just a few weeks to prove their mettle before networks decide their fate when they unveil their fall lineups to advertisers in mid-May.
Some shows are too new to make the list. Fran Drescher’s sitcom Living with Fran premiered on WB just Friday, and Wednesday night brings two more late starters: NBC thriller Revelations (9 p.m. ET/PT) and Pamela Anderson’s sitcom Stacked (Fox, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT). Fox’s animated Family Guy and American Dad return May 1.
“It’s tough to get a bead on how these shows are really performing because a number of them are coming on opposite repeats,” says Magna Global USA analyst Steve Sternberg. “It makes it more difficult to set (networks’) schedules for next season.”
Also included on the list are promising series that failed to deliver enough viewers (Joan of Arcadia, Kevin Hill, Jack & Bobby) and aging warhorses that have slipped (Judging Amy, Less than Perfect).
The fantasy is gone
Absent from this year’s survey are sci-fi and fantasy series, which reliably draw the biggest fan outcry in the survey; in years past the list included The X-Files, Angel and Roswell.
Star Trek: Enterprise, which cheated death last spring and finished tops in the 2004 survey, has already been canceled.
Last season, CBS accounted for four of 10 new shows that won a second season. This year, ABC has the best record, boasting four of nine renewed to date, including the season’s top hits: Desperate Housewives, Lost and Grey’s Anatomy.
Network programmers consider several factors when weighing the fate of shows on the bubble.
Business concerns. Foremost is ratings progress √≥ is the show steady or slowly building an audience, or do more viewers flee each week? Profit is also a big consideration: Do ad revenues more than offset the show’s price tag?
√ØSubjective factors. A show is helped if it fits a network’s “brand” or reflects a new direction. Among questions asked by NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly: “Does it pull the right audience? Does it have critical support or buzz? Where’s the show in its life cycle: Does it have years of growth ahead of it, or is it waning?”
√ØReplacement potential. Sometimes shows stick around simply because pilots vying to supplant them aren’t very good. “A lot of times what decides the fate of these shows is we need another comedy to put a certain night together,” Reilly says. “Or it becomes a marketing challenge: You can’t launch 10 new shows, so there’s a point where sometimes sticking with a known product is better than launching a new one.”
On the other hand, “If they think they have something that’s better that can do better in our place, that show will go on,” says producer Barbara Hall, whose Joan of Arcadia has plummeted in the ratings after early promise and Emmy nominations last season. (Hall also created Judging Amy.)
√ØLobbying. Producers of wavering series often pitch changes in casts, stories or focus in bids to save their show √≥ and their jobs. Though Fox has been “very generous in giving us a post-Simpsons time slot,” Hurwitz says he’ll appeal for another chance, hoping to be paired with a more specifically adult series.
Fans also make their views known, circulating petitions and e-mails and sending show-specific tokens of support √≥ Tabasco sauce bottles to save WB’s Roswell, bananas on behalf of Arrested√≥ aimed at tipping the scales.
Sci-fi fans tend to be unusually obsessive: Backers of Enterprise said they’ve raised $3 million toward funding another season. But producer Paramount has no plans to revive the series, and such efforts often prove fruitless.
“They’re effective only if you’re inclined to do it in the first place,” as a further testament to rabid support, Reilly says.
Once trigger-happy networks have become more patient with struggling shows that show potential. One Tree Hill appeared DOA last season before blossoming into a WB hit. Reilly is a fan of Committed, a romantic comedy that he thinks could flourish given the right time slot. And WB has shown unusual faith in Jack & Bobby, which has struggled mightily in two tough time slots, averaging 2.3 million viewers √≥ low even by that network’s modest standards.
The drama centers on a single mom and two boys, one of whom becomes president, and delves into more thoughtful subject matter than WB’s typical teen fare.
“The show wasn’t what people expected,” says executive producer Greg Berlanti. “It mixes politics and teenagers, and those are two things that don’t usually go together.”
Still, “the fans we do have are rabid,” Berlanti says. “We get fan letters from Harvard Law School.”
While this season’s final episodes “notch up” subject matter with episodes on abortion, a drunken-driving accident and the introduction of the boys’ mysterious father, Berlanti hasn’t sold the show’s soul in a bid for renewal.
“I don’t want it to be a show that changes so much to find an audience that you make the audience you do have angry,” Berlanti says. “We’re just going to try to do more of what we think we do well.”
TV’s bubble troubles