This is the time of the year the major American broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, The CW) throw a big party in New York, and rage against the weakening traditional TV dollar by bragging about their new shows, returning hits, and lucrative sports packages (e.g., NBC has the Super Bowl!, CBS has 8 Thursday Night NFL games!) in a bid for big advertising bucks from advertisers who know we no longer really have to watch commercials anymore in the DVR age. While the true point of this period is to woo advertisers it also serves to woo future viewers, who can track down online trailers for each new show throughout the week and make mental note of those to skip, definitely watch, or wait to hear word of mouth.
Personally, I already know I’ll watch the pilots for the new sitcoms A to Z, Marry Me, Mission Launch, and Selfie. Why? Because they feature actors I like, How I Met Your Mother’s Cristin Milioti in A to Z, Happy Endings’ Casey Wilson and Party Down‘s Ken Marino in Marry Me, Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23‘s Krysten Ritter in Mission Control, and Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan in Selfie. Plus, I am already on board with all 5 of the new comic book shows, Gotham on Fox, Flash and iZombie on CW, Constantine on NBC, and Agent Carter on ABC.
Yet I have this nagging sense of dread or deja vu. Sure, Flash and Gotham seem like safe bets, but why really get worked up about any of these shows or invest too much in them when the odds are overwhelmingly against most of them making it to a second season? Granted, in a post-Jericho/The Killing/Chuck/Ripper Street world, we’re supposed to feel empowered to embrace any show and know that if the network threatens cancellation we can change their mind, but that has its definite limits or else we’d have a new season of Pushing Daisies by now. So, realistically, the networks are just giving us a list of shows which again threaten to break our hearts upon their cancellation (e.g., The Tomorrow People) or when they’re unceremoniously yanked from the schedule (e.g., Believe, Crisis). That might seem cynical, but recent history show that it’s mere math:
Two years ago, the 5 networks combined to premiere 38 new scripted shows, only 13 of which made it to a second season, meaning 66% of all new 2012/2013 shows failed. This past year, the networks introduced 46 new scripted shows, but only granted second season renewals to 14 of them, meaning 70% all new 2013/2014 shows failed. With most of the network pickups already announced, a look into the upcoming TV season reveals there are 42 new shows (not counting mini-series events like A.D. and Emerald City) coming our way, 13 from NBC alone. Based upon recent history, only around 14 of all new shows will make it to a second season, although that group does include shows (e.g., Heroes: Reborn) which are designed for a limited run should the ratings fail to warrant an additional season.
Is this simply a reflection of the new normal for TV watching where no one really knows for sure what constitutes a hit show anymore, and viewership has migrated so much to cable that re-runs of The Big Bang Theory on TBS regularly pull in more viewers than the likes of New Girl, Community, and Parks & Recreation combined? Or is this merely how it’s always been, with most new shows destined to fail? After all, most new shows on network TV fail. That’s nothing new. Has it always been this bad, though?
Actually, it’s been worse. Our current line-up of networks (i.e., ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CW) first came into being during the 2006/2007 TV season after The WB and UPN merged. During that TV season, the 5 networks launched 40 new shows, a paltry 8 of which survived into a second season. That means 80% of the new shows failed.
It’s no wonder why some people don’t pay attention to a new show until it has been renewed for a second season, and has a complete first season available to stream on Netflix or Hulu. It’s also no wonder why the networks are dabbling with limited series like Fox’s current 24 or NBC’s upcoming Heroes: Reborn because at least there renewal/cancellation concerns don’t apply except, of course, if the show is a hit, and then of course it will be back, just like Under the Dome.
NEW SHOWS FROM THE 2013/2014 TV SEASON
Canceled: The Assets, Back in the Game, Betrayal, Killer Women, Lucky 7, Mind Games, Mixology, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Super Fun Night, Trophy Wife
Renewed: The Goldbergs, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Resurrection
Success Rate: Only 3 of 13 survived.
Canceled: Bad Teacher, The Crazy Ones, Friends With Better Lives, Hostages, Intelligence, We Are Men
Renewed: The Millers, Mom
Success Rate: Only 2 of 8 survived
Canceled: Almost Human, Dads, Enlisted, Surviving Jack, Rake, Us & Them
Renewed: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, MasterChef Junior, Sleepy Hollow
Success Rate: Only 3 of 9 survived
Canceled: Believe, Crisis, Dracula, Growing Up Fisher, Ironside, The Michael J. Fox Show, Sean Saves the World, Welcome to the Family
Renewed: About a Boy, The Blacklist, Chicago PD
Success Rate: Only 3 of 11 survived
Canceled: Star-Crossed, The Tomorrow People
Renewed: The 100, The Originals, Reign
Success Rate: 3 of 5 survived
NEW SHOWS FROM THE 2012/2013 TV SEASON
Canceled: 666 Park Avenue, Family Tools, How to Live With Your Parents, Last Resort, Malibu Country, Red Widow, Zero Hour
Renewed: Mistresses, Nashville, The Neighbors
Success Rate: Only 3 of 10 survived
Canceled: Friend Me, Golden Boy, Made in Jersey, Partners, Vegas
Renewed: Elementary, Under the Dome
Success Rate: 2 of 6 survived
Canceled: Ben and Kate, The Mob Doctor, The Goodwin Games
Renewed: The Following, the Mindy Project
Success Rate: 2 of 5 survived
Canceled: 1600 Penn, Animal Practice, Camp, Deception, Do No Harm, Go On, Guys With Kids, Save Me, The New Normal
Renewed: Chicago Fire, Hannibal, Revolution
Success Rate: Only 3 of 12 survived
Canceled: Cult, Emily Owens, M.D
Renewed: Arrow, Beauty and the Beast, The Carrie Diaries
Success Rate: 3 of 5 survived
The lesson of the past 2 seasons has been that The CW tends to give their shows more chances while ABC and NBC have seriously, seriously struggled to launch new shows. NBC has gotten away with it by managing to hit big with The Blacklist and moderately big with Chicago Fire, which already has its own spin-off, Chicago, P.D.
For comparisons sake, this is how things look back during The CW’s first year of life:
NEW SHOWS FROM THE 2006/2007 TV SEASON
Canceled: The Nine, Help Me Help You, Day Break, Show Me the Money, The Knights of Prosperity, Six Degrees, In Case of Emergency
Renewed: No new show was renewed
Success Rate: 0 out of 7 survived
Canceled: Armed & Famous, The Class, Pirate Master, Smith, Standoff, 3 Lbs
Renewed: Jericho, Rules of Engagement, Shark
Success Rate: 3 of 9 survived
Canceled: Anchorwoman, Celebrity Duets, Drive, Happy Hour, Justice, The Loop, On the Lot, The Rich List, Vanished, The Wedding Bells, The Winner
Renewed: ‘Til Death
Success Rate: An astonishingly bad 1 of 12 survived
Canceled: Andy Barker, P.I., The Black Donnellys, Kidnapped, Raines, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Thank You’re Here
Renewed: 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, Heroes
Success Rate: Only 3 of 9 survived
CW (first year as a network)
Canceled: Hidden Palms, Runaway
Renewed: The Game
Success Rate: 1 of 3 survived
Is it impressive or sad or both if you read the 2006/2007 list and actually remembered most of the shows which had been canceled? I can’t lie – I hadn’t heard of most of those. Sadly, we’ll eventually be saying the same thing about the likes of Marry Me and the majority of the 40+ new shows set to premiere this upcoming TV season.