FOX announced the renewal of four (non-genre) shows on Friday, and this move provides some clear evidence to my previous assertion that the ratings bar has dropped this season for the Big Four broadcast networks. The renewed shows were sitcoms The Mindy Project, New Girl, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine as well as crime drama The Following. That first series had previously been pegged by TV by the Numbers as likely to be cancelled and the other three have been pulling less than spectacular numbers. The Following returned for its second season in January of this year and has seen its numbers drop considerably last from year and has also experienced a steady decline since its second season bow. In fact, with its past few new episodes, its numbers have only been slightly better than its lead-in Almost Human which has yet to hear word on its fate.
So what does all this mean to the sci fi / fantasy shows currently airing on the Big Four nets, especially those that are lagging in the ratings like the aforementioned AH?
Hard to say for certain, but it does seem to support my assertion that the ratings bar has certainly dropped. Last season, for the most part a 2.0 rating in the 18-49 demographic based on the overnights was the lowest a Big Four network non-Friday show could average and hope to get renewed. Cancelled sci fi / fantasy shows that dropped below that level last season included Last Resort (1.4 Avg), 666 Park Avenue (1.5 Avg), Zero Hour (1.2 Avg), and Do No Harm (0.8 Avg). This season, though, we have seen several genre entries averaging scores well below the 2.0 level and yet they still seem to be clinging to life. Some of these include Revolution, Intelligence, and maybe Almost Human (and Agents of SHIELD dropped down to a 1.8 score with its most recent new episode). And quite a number of non-genre shows across the big fours have been dipping down close to or below that 2.0 mark showing a clear erosion of viewership across the old school networks as audiences flock to cable entries like The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, American Horror Story, Sons of Anarchy, and more. Currently, NBC’s Revolution is averaging only a 1.4 rating based on the overnights for the full season and has pulled no higher than a 1.3 over its last few new episodes. Last year, that would have got the show yanked and kicked to a Summer burn-off run, but it is still cruising through its second season episodes. ABC’s poorly received spin-off Once Upon A Time in Wonderland has been averaging CW level numbers (and regularly losing to Vampire Diaries in its timeslot), but they brought it back from hiatus to air out its episodes despite the fact that higher–though still low–rated Zero Hour was cast off to Summer last season after airing only three episodes.
It would seem that the networks are trying to figure out the new normal this season as far as the ratings bar and that is why only one genre show has met the ax this year (which was an unexpected one: Syfy’s Being Human). But they will be deciding where to set that bar pretty soon (it will be slightly different for each network) because they have to have next season’s schedule set by the time of the May upfronts when they present to the sponsors. And its very possible that several shows I currently have pegged as likely to be cancelled could benefit from this. Show’s like NBC’s Dracula could still have a chance because despite its poor numbers it airs in the tough Friday 10 PM EST timeslot. Or that same network’s Revolution may win another season because of the rabid fanbase that continues to make noise in support of the show across the internet.
However, despite the clear indication that the ratings bar has dropped, I’m not adjusting my cancellation predictions just yet. The Cancellation Alert Status that I am showing in my Cancellation Watch columns and the cancellation likelihood that I indicate in my Power Rankings is currently still based on last season’s bar. That’s mostly because we don’t know where the bar will be set this season just yet, and I’d rather predict that a show will be cancelled and see it get renewed than vice versa. (Also, it’s also a way for me to hedge my bets and say I’m right no matter what, but we won’t focus on that . . . ) So at this point, I will be sticking with the harsher verdict on the lower rated shows, but know that several of the genre underperformers still have a chance of winning another season.
So fans of Almost Human will be wondering about the chances of that show since it was left out of FOX’s renewal announcements on Friday, but it’s hard to make a call at this point. AH is currently just slightly below The Following as far as its relative ratings, so you would think it still has a chance. But it could very well be that the deal FOX has with the studio that produces the latter show could be more affordable making it a more attractive renewal prospect (plus, it has the star power of Kevin Bacon fueling it). If the network felt strongly enough about Almost Human, I’m thinking it would have been included in Friday’s renewals. Leaving it out seems to be a bad sign, but then they could still be trying to hammer out a deal. Ideally, the network should give AH the benefit of the doubt seeing as they have thrown plenty of scheduling challenges and preemptions at it (and also aired the episodes out of order, shades of Firefly). But these are network execs we are talking about, and they tend to ignore these things when they chose to. Almost Human is not definitely headed for the chopping block, but its a toss up at this point. On the plus side, FOX seems to be hurting more than the other Big Four nets, so they might be willing to take a chance on a show that appears to have a strong fan following. So fans of that show should make some noise if they want to help its chances. Short of that, its season finale from last week could likely turn into its series finale.
One more note on the ratings bar as it applies to The CW. While the bar has apparently dropped for the Big Four, I believe it has raised for the fifth place network based on its ratings gains this season. Genre entries Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Supernatural, and Arrow (and to some extent the non-genre show Reign) have given The CW its most solid lineup in several years and the network has some strong pilots in the pipeline like Flash, iZombie, and Supernatural: Tribes. Plus, The 100 will debut next week and it has been getting some decent early buzz. Last year, Beauty and the Beast got a second season renewal despite sinking to a 0.5 rating in the 18-49 demo based on the overnights at the end of its first season. I don’t see that happening again this year and underperformers like The Tomorrow People and Star-Crossed (as well and B & B) will likely get kicked to the curb in favor of new entries (remember that The CW only programs ten original hours a week with half of that taken up by the five shows mentioned above). While The CW looked to be on verge of shuttering its doors just a season or two ago, it may now find itself in a better position because it is built more like a cable network and its current ratings numbers are right on par with that.
It will be the end of the season before we can truly judge how much the bar has dropped and the number will be different for each of the Big Four with FOX looking like the biggest lagger at this point. But with only one cancellation among genre shows thus far, fans of those entries with moderate to poor ratings still have some reason to hope. And increased social network activity that brings attention to their shows could make the difference between cancellation and renewal. Keep a close eye on this site and the Cancelled Sci Fi Twitter Site to see how the numbers track out through the end of the season because it could be a nail-biter for several shows right down to the end.