It’s kind of ridiculous to make big proclamations and scheduling suggestions only 10 days into a new season (of which I’m plenty guilty of doing). Premieres inflate things and shows have to settle and especially with DVR usage up every year, we don’t always get the full story in overnights.
That being said, it’s very clear that the trajectory DWTS has faced these last 18 months is a very steep decline that shows no sign of stopping, especially with The Voice, the biggest show currently in the demo (at least til Idol returns) its competition on both nights. On the surface, DWTS has lost 10 million viewers from March 28th 2011 – the second week of the 12th cycle. That week it had 22.7 million and a 5.2 in the demo. This week – Week 2 of its 15th cycle, it had 12.3 million viewers and a 2.1 – It lost 10 million viewers and 3 full ratings points in a year and a half. Yes I know, they run two cycles a year. Yes I know, it has larger competition in the same genre now. Still, that is a staggering loss of viewers in a short period of time (and one ABC should possibly investigate with Nielsen) and shows like Survivor that run 2 cycles a year and go up against American Idol are still kind of holding it together.
One of the things DWTS always had going for it was that even though it skewed older, the amount of total viewers was large. This week for the first time. The Voice beat in total viewers as well. Plus DWTS gets a minimal, if any, boost from DVR usage, which was fine when it was getting a very large live viewing of 20 mil and a 5.2, but when it’s getting a 2.0 and 12 million – not so impressive. I do think the All Star season probably dropped it down even more – seeing the same couples feels like a rerun and its less exciting than discovering someone new like William Levy or casting a popular-of the moment personality like a Ryan Lochte. I do think a regular season would have produced a less precipitous drop (hindsight’s 20/20) but it was already under a 3.0 in the spring when The Voice wasnt as strong. I imagine it wouldn’t be doing more than mid to high 2’s either way. The All Star season was clearly chosen by producers to possibly curb the ratings drop. But let’s be honest, from spring 2011 to fall 2011 there was already a huge drop and it didn’t face The Voice last fall.
I think given the trajectory and the fact that its next cycle would be in ratings depressed spring (due to the return of daylights savings time), ABC should not return the show this spring and rest it until (the earliest) fall 2013 or preferably Jan 2014. What you Say? I’m nuts? Perhaps, but let’s be realistic. With another season of The Voice on tap and with new judges Usher and Shakira to add some freshness, its possible The Voice will still be plenty strong enough this spring. If DWTS trends down even more, we could be talking 10 million and under a 2.0 (for all we know it could be under a 2.0 sometimes this season). These aren’t great numbers for advertisers and the more it airs now, the more its likely to trend down. Between The Voice and Idol airing 4 nights of the week and ABCs hits on other nights there isn’t a logical place to move it either.
I think ABC should take a page from their own book, with The Bachelor/Bachelorette. That show was aging and running 3 cycles a year (between both iterations). They rested it for 8 months after Spring ’05 and in the winter 2006 brought it back for one cycle that season and now it’s 2012 and is still on the air. At this point I think they have to give people a chance to miss DWTS, more than just a 4 month hiatus. A year off will do that (or at least 10 months til the fall). Plus in that time, its possible The Voice wont be as much of a threat anymore. The next DWTS cycle would feature an entire new cast and maybe to usher it back in they could grab bigger names. If they waited til Jan 2014, The Voice will be between cycles and it might attract more attention than it normally would. Of course it could also be met with “who cares?” after a hiatus too. But at this rate, its reign is certainly over soon. With some down time, its possible to add more life to it.
So now the big question – what does ABC do this spring? It’s really even more ridiculous to guess what can go here now when the entire fall season hasn’t even rolled out but I’ll just throw out some ideas and possibly revisit this again down the road.
The Bachelor is expected to go until March 18th. They could get an extra week out of it and then they just need to worry about 8 weeks in April and May. None of their midseason dramas scream game changing hit to me (though I could be wrong) and even so, they’d likely want to premiere them at 10 where there’s more of a shot of them working, since there’s less competition there. Red Widow has 8 eps and I could see that on Sunday at 10 after The Oscars (or possibly Tue at 10 if Private Practice ends after 13 eps.). Mistresses is slated for summer with The Bachelorette which seems smart to me but they could always start it earlier on Sun at 10 possibly. Zero Hour could play in any hour, but again, its way to soon to speculate. Plus starting Missing at 8 didn’t work out so well in the Spring. Might have done better Tue at 10. New dramas don’t feel like a smart bet for the 8-10 Mon slot and I wouldn’t advise moving any of their newer dramas.
What about reality? ABC has an Anthony Bourdain cooking competition show on tap, though putting a brand new show like that against The Voice seems like suicide. What might be a good idea for them is to move Castle to 9p in April. It got 10 million and a 1.9 at 10 this week. Even as DWTS has dropped, the total viewer count for Castle has grown in the last 18 months. Plus Bones is doing a low 2.0 at 8. Procedural fans might flip to it at 9, plus there’s no light procedural in that hour. It should be able to do close to a 2.0 and 10 million at 9 (not far from what DWTS is doing now). They could always put Body of Proof after it Mon at 10. The show is adding Mark Valley as co-star to Dana Delany this season and is definitely going for that Castle vibe. Those two are very compatible hours, plus with Revolution doing so well now, it’s probably not smart to start another new drama at 10 (unless it’s very different like Mistresses, but that would match up with The Bachelorette or Revenge much better than Castle).
They could possibly try the Bourdain show at 10 where it will be the only reality show. Seems Bravo has made food competition shows work at 10p.
What do they do at 8? Here’s a crazy idea. What about Shark Tank. Shark Tank is scheduled to move to 9p in November. In March, Nightline’s Primetime stint starts airing Friday at 9. If the Friday comedy tandem of Tim and Reba do well enough, that leaves Shark Tank the odd man out. I’ve long maintained ST is a major asset for ABC and have wondered what it could do on a more viewed night. Maybe for 8 weeks Mondays at 8 in the Spring is a good time. Or if ABC wanted to give it a better shot than opposite The Voice, maybe it goes to 10 after Castle.
It’s hard to even guess what the Tuesday filler is, but the Jan schedule at this point is 4 comedies and a drama. Unless those tank horribly, there’s no reason that can’t continue for 8 weeks in the Spring.
It’s also possible ABC is working on a new reality project now that hasn’t been revealed and could be a possible spring show for them on either night. (They also have Wife Swap to plug an 8p hole, though that might be best suited for summer or Friday)
Will they likely take a hit without DWTS in the spring? Yes. But they most likely will with it airing as well and another hit will probably finish the franchise. Sitting out the Spring and resting it for a bit allows them to possibly preserve it and use it again to their advantage in the future. If it does well enough, maybe it can become a once a year 12 week boost for them.