ABC just had a really good week. In addition to the Oscars hitting a 14 year high in viewers, Greys and Scandal returned to high ratings. Both were the top 2 dramas on all of broadcast TV last week and Scandal had their second highest ratings ever. Modern Family, while down, is still the second highest rated show on broadcast after The Big Bang Theory. Shark Tank is regularly dominating Friday night and in its 5th year, is still growing. And yet, ABCs overall strategy this season has led to some really big bombs and what’s so surprising is ABCs reticence to move things and just leave under performing and unloved shows in pivotal spots on their schedule. (There’s only been one show that was pulled – Lucky 7– Every other show has basically been allowed to run out all or most of their eps even while gathering series lows).
Lets take Tuesday for example: ABC began this season with an all new night led by SHIELD which was sure to open. This strategy is always risky but it worked pretty well for them in 2009 on Wednesday and in this case it yielded two shows that are sure to return next season (and deserve to). Shield isn’t a blockbuster but until this week it hadn’t hit lower than a 2.2 and generally goes up 1.5 in L7. Most importantly, it is giving ABC a show that brings in Men 18-34 which is one demo that they haven’t been able to recruit in the last few years. The Goldbergs while not a blockbuster, has proven it has an audience. It is regularly in the 1.5/1-7. zone & goes up about 1.0 in L7. With the right kind of nurturing this could turn into a big hit for them. The problem then arises with Trophy Wife, a show very on brand for ABC that is clearly not connecting on Tue. Even by week 2 it was down to a 1.4 while Goldbergs was still a 2.1. Since January the show has been under a 1.0 and 3 million viewers and regularly coming in 5th behind the CW. That should be grounds for removal immediately. This show is on brand for ABC and I don’t get why they just wouldn’t relaunch it in spring on Wed after The Middle. If it tanks there, no one could accuse ABC of not giving it a fair shot, but just leaving it on Tue to flounder doesn’t help it and it certainly doesn’t help ABC. Even a Goldbergs rerun would do far better.
There are 3 dramas that have failed terribly in the Tue at 10p slot. But I think that’s the exact problem. It feels like ABC was just “filling” the slot. “Oh you failed – here’s another one” and repeat. There’s no overall strategy of what shows were going here. It felt like these were the other dramas we picked up last May. We’ll just put them into our open hole. There are currently two rival network dramas that are in the 2.0 area. It will be really hard for a new drama to suddenly break through here. They need to counter program. Having basically no audience at 9:30 isn’t doing them any favors either. But I don’t get how it’s acceptable or why they should be complacent to have Tue 9:30-11 be so underviewed. Leaving Trophy Wife there defies explanation. I also think it doesn’t help ABC to be one of 3 networks airing single camera comedies Tue at 9. Trophy Wife was in 5th place before NBC entered the comedy fray. It certainly wasn’t gonna get better.
Two years ago ABC and Paul Lee were derided rather unfairly for adding The Neighbors to their Wednesday lineup and while I thought the initial critical impression of The Neighbors was (as usual in this twitter/media world) incorrect and hyperbolic to a ridiculous degree, ABCs logic made sense. The night had 3 other family comedies. Having a younger skewing comedy at 9:30 didn’t make much sense and a family comedy would likely hold much more of the Modern Family audience (this was proven last spring with How To Live With Your Parents For The Rest Of your Life– a buzzless and quickly cancelled show that had the best MF retention in recent memory, if not ever). So what’s so perplexing about the Wednesday strategy this year is that it violates something that Paul Lee said himself two years ago. While I didn’t think Super Fun Night would work at 9:30, I could hear the argument that Rebel is a big star and they wanted to give her the best timeslot to succeed. But once the show didn’t work ratings wise, it would seem to back up the idea that a family comedy is the way to go. Scheduling Mixology here after all this evidence of what works in this slot seemed very self-defeating.
The most perplexing thing here is they have a family comedy, The Goldbergs doing okay on Tue. Not only would it complement Modern Family in all the aforementioned ways, but on Wed at 9:30 it wouldn’t be facing another comedy and would have a chance to really blossom. Isn’t that point? Networks should want to maximize their schedule for hits and the highest ratings and nurture new ones. This is one of those shows that looks like could really break out there. Why not make Goldbergs as big as it can be now and expose it to more viewers? This season, it’s likely not gonna grow out of the mid 1s on Tue at 9 but it could grow Wed at 9:30 and be that more valuable to ABC as it enters a second season.
So unsurprisingly, Mixology tanked in its premiere and now Modern Family has been trending down as well. ABC has a gem of a family comedy at 8 with The Middle but I think all this shuffling comedies in and out at 9:30, especially incompatible ones, is kind of devaluing their whole special family comedy night as a whole and bringing Modern Family down more than it should be.
Moving The Goldbergs to Wed at 9:30 could not only help that show flourish and grow (I could see it hitting a 2.3 after MF) but it could actually help MF too. ABC could go back to selling their whole family comedy as a unit again – a place to watch from 8-10. At this point what do they have to lose? Trophy Wife has a .8 on Tue and Mixology is dead. (Mixology didn’t drop too much this week and I hope that ABC doesn’t view that as a win. A 1.6 or a 1.5 (and 4th place) after a 3.3 for Modern Family (1st place) is complete rejection and they could and should want to do better, but I suspect it’s not getting pulled soon).
I think networks need to protect their hits. Once Mixology failed last week, why would they cut the last half of one of their highest rated shows – The Bachelor for a rerun of a pilot so soundly rejected the first time it aired. That helped the audience go away at 9:30 and sent Castle to a series low. So in addition to leaving weak shows in important time slots, we’re now damaging existing hits too? All in the name of Mixology?
There’s 2 and half months left to the season. ABC could make some changes now that could bolster both nights and actually help their newbies with potential this year:
They seem loathe to want to do a DWTS results show but even with a low demo that show would get 10 million viewers. They can air it Tue at 10 and that would be perfect counter programming to two network drams. It could also give their affiliates a lead into their local news which they haven’t had all year on Tue. With NBC and FOX airing single cams Tue 9 and CBS drama, the clear hole is reality. ABC could air the long on the self The Quest which could keep some of the young males watching Shield. Or ABC could just move Shield to 9p and either run a Shield or Shark Tank or MF/Goldbergs rerun at 8. This would free them up to move The Goldbergs to Wed at 9:30. Both nights would likely see ratings upgrades as well as giving Shield and Goldbergs their best shot to flourish. Many people will scoff at these suggestions – DWTS at 10??? My answer is Why not? – Another new drama isn’t the answer this season. Wouldn’t 10 mil vs. the 2 million that watched Mind Games be appreciated by the network, the affiliates, Jimmy Kimmel?
I’m not naive enough to think that there aren’t other considerations that make these things more challenging than they seem (It takes a lot to produce a DWTS results show for example and right now they’re not budgeted for that nor is the production team prepared to etc). There could be other options for them to consider Tue from 9-11 but I think counterprogramming the other nets should be their primary focus. But I think staying pat and surrendering is a far more frightening prospect or should be for ABC. (Another idea: If Resurrection opens well, I could even see them encoring it Tue at 10 for extra sampling, maybe following a DWTS results show at 9.)
The headline “Is ABC Trying To Lose” is a bit sarcastic, but it’s worth reiterating what I said earlier. ABC is doing far better than the media will let you know. In addition to all the shows I listed above, DWTS still gets 12 million viewers (yes the demo is low, but what network wouldn’t want 12 million viewers these days). The Bachelor is a big demo hit 11 years into its run. They have a hit virtually every night of the week including Sunday with OUAT and TVs biggest scripted hit on Wed and the 2nd and 3rd biggest hits on Thu. (To their credit, I also think Resurrection is their best drama pilot this year and they have scheduled it in the best place for it to do well and they have marketed it brilliantly). The real network that’s currently flopping is FOX where American Idol was down to a 2.4 last week. Last Thursday 5 Broadcast shows had higher 18-49 ratings than it did (3 on CBS , two on ABC) and that’s essentially their highest rated show. Monday and Tuesday nights are hitting new lows on FOX every week. They don’t have a show approaching the L7 numbers of MF, Greys or Scandal.
That being said, FOX just made adjustments to their Thu lineup which is sure to yield much higher ratings than they are currently getting and that’s primarily where the question “Is ABC Trying To Lose” comes from. No network is immune from nights and shows that aren’t working but they make adjustments to better that. Leaving Tue 9:30-11 under a 1.0 since January. Leaving shows like Wonderland, Betrayal to run out all their episodes while getting barely 3 million viewers and a .9 doesn’t sound like a network that wants to win. I’m sure that’s not the case and I know running and scheduling a network is much harder than it seems and I’m not arrogant or stupid enough to think I know better or have all the answers. But I definitely know that leaving things that are working horribly and not making changes is senseless. There’s still opportunity for ABC to make changes on Tue and Wed to upgrade both of those nights. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t want to.