Networks are being extraordinarily patient with their freshman series this fall, handing out full-season orders to a whopping ten newcomers while officially pulling the plug on just one (RIP, Manhattan Love Story). As the season moves into its third month, however, executives are going to have to start making the difficult calls about series still in limbo. That’s because we’re getting to the point in TV’s production calendar where networks either need to order more episodes of first-year shows or shut down production. (The one exception this year is CBS, which has picked up all four of the frosh series it has debuted to date.) As the day of decision nears for 2014’s newbies, let’s take a look at the odds of survival for the remaining newcomers. (We didn’t include NBC’s Constantine on our list because just one episode has aired, making it hard to assess the show’s chances.)
A to Z (NBC)
Despite last weekend’s “Weekend Update” bit on SNL, it’s been a brutal fall for TV rom-coms. Manhattan Love Story has already ended prematurely, and this Cristin Milioti–Ben Feldman cute-com seems likely to be next. Viewers don’t even seem to know it exists, not surprising given its scheduling behind the crass Bad Judge and opposite ABC’s megahit Scandal. It might have had a better shot had NBC paired it with Marry Me on Tuesdays, but it’s also just possible that viewers post–How I Met Your Mother aren’t that into romantic comedies that don’t end after two hours.
Bad Judge (NBC)
Critics savaged Kate Walsh’s move to half-hour comedy, but at least initially, viewers were curious: The show debuted to decent numbers last month, attracting 6 million viewers in its first at-bat. That’s almost double the audience of NBC Thursday stalwarts such as Parks and Recreation and Community. Since then, however, it’s been all downhill for the Judge, with last week’s episode struggling to get above 4 million viewers. That’s still not awful for an NBC Thursday comedy these days, but it’s also not good. What limits the show’s chances of survival is the fact that Blacklist is already slated to inherit the 9 p.m. Thursday hour in February. NBC has said it could, in theory, slide Bad Judge to the 8 p.m. hour, but barring a quick bounce back, it seems far more likely that the network will either put a reality show in the hour or let Parks and Rec sail off into the sunset on the night. The Peacock could order a few extra episodes for scheduling purposes, but otherwise, it’s case dismissed for Bad Judge.
ABC hasn’t given much promotional love to this Friday multi-camera half-hour, instead putting most of its comedy-marketing muscle behind black-ish. But Cristela has nonetheless managed to do okay numbers behind Last Man Standing, holding onto most of its adults-under-50 lead-in and proving to be a better fit with Tim Allen’s show than last year’s The Neighbors. It’s also gotten decent reviews, and our ABC sources insist network execs are fond of the show (even though it almost didn’t get picked up to series last spring). Given ABC’s comedy woes on Tuesdays and limited comedy bench — single-camera Fresh Off the Boat is ABC’s only half-hour backup — it seems a safe bet the network will be patient with Cristela and keep the show on the air through spring. And if it really wants to see the show’s potential, ABC execs might give it a couple test-airings on another night of the week, if only to let audiences know the show is out there.
There’s clearly an audience that wants to love this fantasy procedural show about an immortal medical examiner. Forever’s under-50 ratings actually inched up between its first and second episodes (a rarity in TV), and overall tune-in has hovered around a respectable 5 million viewers Tuesdays at 10— which is more than lead-in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on a same-day basis. The series is also showing strength in delayed viewing, adding around 60 percent more viewers from DVR replays. On the down side, ratings have been trending down in the key demo: After competing for first place its first couple weeks on the air, Forever has now fallen to third behind NBC’s Chicago Fire and CBS’s Person of Interest. But given ABC’s overall Tuesday difficulties, on balance, Forever is doing okay — and could benefit from a move to a better time slot later in the year (perhaps a test on Sundays?). It’s likely ABC execs agree, which is why more episodes of the show will be ordered.
Fox has always billed its adaptation of Broadchurch as an “event” series, implying the show — whose first season was always designed to be limited to ten episodes — might only be around for a limited time frame. Based on the disappointing numbers for early episodes, this show’s future is pretty easy to predict: Unlike Broadchurch, it will not be back for a second season. Fox will air the five remaining episodes, either on Thursdays or another night, and then move on.
Marry Me (NBC)
NBC execs clearly liked this rom-com from Happy Endings creator David Caspe more than any of its other new comedies: They gave the show their best possible time slot, Tuesdays at 9 after The Voice. After a solid debut audience of over 7.5 million viewers, Marry lost a little ground, dropping to 5.6 million last week (but stabilizing at the same audience level last night, a good sign). This doesn’t necessarily mean NBC is about to divorce itself from Marry, though. Tuesday 9:30 p.m. comedy About a Boy, in its second season, is doing even worse in the ratings. And with NBC’s Thursday comedies completely tanking, NBC might want to be a little more patient with Marry, to see if the numbers can stabilize or if buzz grows. Marry Me got a late start, so for now, we’ll put this show’s fate squarely in the toss-up category.
The network’s latest attempt to get back into the multi-camera-comedy business has been pretty close to a Nielsen disaster. Mulaney launched earlier this month to a meager audience of just over 2 million viewers, and the numbers have failed to get any better in subsequent outings. In fairness, the young-skewing, animated Family Guy isn’t exactly the best lead-in for comic John Mulaney’s attempt to resurrect the ghost of Seinfeld. And on the bright side, the show’s audience has been relatively stable over each of its three airings. But even by Fox’s lowered standards this season, that audience is tiny (and even DVR replays aren’t helping the show’s bottom line all that much). No wonder, then, that the network recently decided to cut back its 16-episode order for the show to just 13, thus halting production on the show. Fox may well let Mulaney stay on the air through year’s end, and if it somehow shows signs of life, it could get a long-shot renewal come May. More realistically? Mulaney está muerto.
Red Band Society (Fox)
You know how network execs these days are always being quoted talking about the importance of DVR ratings and how crucial delayed viewing is to determining a show’s future? This pediatric-ward drama could be a good test-case to see if said execs really mean what they say. Based solely on same-day ratings, Red Band is flatlining, hovering just over 3 million viewers and a 1.0 rating among viewers under 50 the last few weeks it has aired. But once the supposedly all-important DVR viewers are tallied, the show’s numbers look much healthier (if still modest). The show’s October 8 episode, for example, nearly doubled after delaying viewing, leaping from an awful 0.9 rating in the key demo to a decent 1.7 — on a par with newcomers such as NBC’s Mysteries of Laura and ABC’s Forever. Fox suits recently asked the writers to deliver another four scripts, a move that often leads to more episodes being ordered. Whether that happens probably depends on how the show does when it returns from a World Series–caused hiatus, but right now, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Fox give Red Band at least a little more time. Long-term, however, some of those delayed viewers are going to have start watching the series the night it airs for Fox to consider a second season.
Unless a show is based on a big franchise (Gotham) or has a well-known star attached (The Mysteries of Laura), networks generally try to protect their new series by scheduling them behind something with an established audience, hoping that viewers returning to see one of their favorites will stay tuned for the newbie. This is why ABC put How to Get Away With Murder after Scandal, Cristela follows Last Man Standing, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. leads into Forever, and black-ish is #blessed to follow Modern Family. Unfortunately for Selfie, it’s been given no such help: The Karen Gillan–John Cho comedy was thrown into the 8 p.m. Tuesday time slot all by its lonesome. Not surprising, its ratings aren’t very good, with barely 4 million same-day viewers tuning in and its adults-under-50 rating hovering around a 1.0. And yet, despite facing off against TV’s most-watched drama (NCIS) and the top-rated reality show (The Voice), Selfie hasn’t completely collapsed. Ratings have been consistent for the past three weeks, even as 8:30 p.m. companion Manhattan Love Story caused viewers to flee (and forced ABC to cancel it). ABC isn’t giving up on Selfie just yet, recently deciding to air an extra original episode at 8:30 p.m. as a replacement for Love Story. But that move also means that, unless ABC orders more episodes, Selfie will run out of new installments soon. Our industry sources insist ABC brass likes the show and wants to be patient, which would seem to suggest the network is leaning toward additional episodes. Buzz on the show has also turned positive in some social media circles (translation: We’ve noticed a lot of upbeat comments about recent episodes on Twitter). Unfortunately, given Selfie’s low numbers and the fact that it’s the only non-family half-hour on the network right now, the odds of long-term survival — even if ABC orders a few more episodes — seem long.
Fox spent tens of millions investing in a show it hoped could turn into a sort of year-round Big Brother, but after a decent premiere, viewers quickly fled from the voyeuristic reality concept (in which participants, allegedly trying to build a new society, mostly just yelled at each other). The ratings for the Tuesday edition were so bad, Fox cut the show back to Fridays only a few weeks earlier than planned; the Friday numbers have been even worse. Given how many other problems Fox has right now, the low numbers on Friday are something the network might live with for another week or three, if only because anything the network slots on the night on such short notice isn’t likely to do that much better than Utopia. But unless Fox execs promised producers an as-yet undisclosed long-term commitment, there’s no chance Utopia will make it into 2015.