TV Success Rate: 65% Of New Shows Will Be Canceled (& Why It Matters)

Published 3 years ago by , Updated May 17th, 2012 at 3:04 pm,

tv success rate canceled TV Success Rate: 65% Of New Shows Will Be Canceled (& Why It Matters)

It’s that time of the year – to check out the upcoming new series that will be gracing our screens during the fall. But for all of the new programming that gets rolled out year after year, what is the likelihood that a new television series will receive a second season?

Looking back on the programming decisions made by the networks from 2009-2012, you may be surprised to find out that, on average, 65% of new network television series will be canceled within their first season.

Completely acknowledging the fact that television, like all entertainment, is a largely subjective medium, the numbers do not actually represent the quality of the television series on the air. Even though more than half of the new shows will be canceled, that doesn’t mean that more than half aren’t of quality – or worth watching. Nor does it represent the demographic of the networks’ audience or the impact that demographics have on ad revenue.

Instead, these numbers represent, at their core, a network’s ability to not only appropriately select programming for its audience (including potential), but to also schedule in such a way to allow for a series’ success. As many fans of cult television shows know, perhaps more than anyone, even a quality series can fail solely because of a given timeslot.

Providing much more than simply the amount of new series that will be canceled, the numbers also reveal that out of all the broadcast networks, new television series on ABC have the highest chance of receiving a second season – with an average 39% chance of renewal. Trailing not far behind, Fox and CBS have 38% and 36%, respectively. This is an interesting placement for Fox, considering they only have to schedule programming from 8pm-10pm, instead of 8pm-11pm like most networks. Even with a portion of the pick-ups comparable to other networks, ABC still managed to come out on top with these statistics, though Fox is currently considered the #1 broadcast network.

work it canceled TV Success Rate: 65% Of New Shows Will Be Canceled (& Why It Matters)Work It! (ABC): Jan 3, 2012 – Jan 10, 2012

Of course, the numbers that many readers may be interested in are NBC’s. Even though the infamous “Late Night Wars of 2010″ took a lot out of the network (92% of new series canceled during that season alone), their overall average before and after their prime time debacle is pretty much consistent with the other broadcast networks. That being said, it’s not known how many Whitney-esque renewals (where audiences aren’t sure why it’s returning) are contained within these programming decisions – though they certainly do benefit the network’s average.

Looking at the trend of television over the course of the past three seasons, the number of canceled series have jumped somewhat significantly following the 2009-2010 television season – going from 57% of new series being canceled to 69% over the course a single season – and generally remaining around that number to this day.

When talk of the 2009-2010 television season – and the impact it had on the television industry – begins, it’s impossible not to include the fact that one of the most groundbreaking series in the history of television, Lost, came to an end that season. And while NBC’s decision to rework its primetime line-up certainly impacted the overall network averages, one could also point to networks’ attempt at recreating the “event TV” that many viewers became familiar with.

how to be a gentleman TV Success Rate: 65% Of New Shows Will Be Canceled (& Why It Matters)How to be a Gentleman (CBS): Sept 29, 2011 – Oct 15, 2011

Unfortunately, many television viewers weren’t exactly ready to invest time into a new series. Whether it’s from the general love-it-or-hate-it response to the Lost finale, or audiences simply not wanting to invest years into another television show in order to see a payoff, the landscape of television took quite a hit from Lost. Even though some series in the same vein were generally interesting, perhaps viewers were right to withhold their commitment.

As the numbers show, 65% of all new TV shows that premiere will likely be canceled – which means no closure for those that watched a particular series up until the point it abruptly ends. Turning to Lost-esque series as an example of television’s most recent pitfalls is simple and, in many ways, unfair.

While it’s true that viewers have tired of specific, familiar elements, one must first point to the general uncertainty that surrounds the new fall television seasons. With high-concept series like Awake (and, yes, Fringe) either being canceled or struggling to survive (Fox has stated previously that they lose money on Fringe), there comes a point when it becomes difficult to ask for audiences to become invested in something that only has a 35% chance of making it to season 2.

the beautiful life cw TV Success Rate: 65% Of New Shows Will Be Canceled (& Why It Matters)The Beautiful Life (CW): Sept 16, 2009 – Sept 23, 2009

And, yes, while many can stand back and proudly proclaim their ability to judge which series is going to be canceled, the numbers, as well as previous experience, show that even quality programming can fall to these statistical realities.

Now what are you, a television viewer, supposed to do? Hold off on watching a new TV series until a second season has been ordered? While probably being the most logically sound move, when it comes down to it, television viewers really do have an impact on the fate of TV shows. So if there’s a new series that you enjoy, watch it when it airs, as those are the numbers that networks use (for the most part) to make their programming decisions.

lone star fox canceled TV Success Rate: 65% Of New Shows Will Be Canceled (& Why It Matters)Lone Star (Fox): Sept 20, 2010 – Sept 27, 2010

While the 65% of new TV series that are cancelled have made it on-air initially, the sheer amount of challenges and hurdles that one must overcome to get any television on the air makes the act of it ever occurring almost miracle-like. Phil Rosenthal, the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, once said, “…just to get on the air, to me, was a miracle. Then to last [one] season was a miracle. Then to last more than [one] season was a miracle.”

As the television audience, you are the proverbial miracle workers for a series’ success. So if 65% of all new shows are canceled, try to make an effort to let your opinion be known by tuning in. I mean, how are the networks going to know how many people are really enjoying a particular series if nobody actually watches it when it airs?

We all know the Neilson ratings aren’t perfect (and are completely frustrating to network executives) but that’s all they have to go by. DVR, iTunes, and digital streaming are all supplemental revenue streams, but they still don’t come close to matching the amount of money a network can potentially make from advertisers buying time on a “hit” series. So how about we try to work the system in our favor – and perhaps network television will be better for it?

[Check out the complete data breakdown for each network and genre on the following page.]

« 1 2»

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. Wow, I didn’t know that drag queen show got canceled after a week. This reminds me what someone said in another post. Wait until a series gets a second season before watching it. Because it sucks getting in to something only to see it canceled before the story even takes off.

  2. “try to make an effort to let your opinion be known, by tuning in. I mean, how are the networks going to know how many people are really enjoying a particular series if nobody actually watches it when it airs?”

    You said it yourself……if you aren’t a Nielson family, it makes absolutely ZERO difference if you watch a show or not. Kind of sad that Hollywood relies on a mere 5000 households to determine the fate of all these shows. That’s about .004% of the total households in the US.

    The best we, as NON Nielson families can do, is to post our comments on sites like ScreenRant and hope that someone who matters actually reads those comments.

    • I thought the same when I read “So if there’s a new series that you enjoy, watch it when it airs, as those are the numbers that networks use (for the most part) to make their programming decisions.”. How do they know if you’re not one of those families?
      There’s gotta be a better system. With people moving to IPTV, shouldn’t there be a more accurate way to determine what’s being watched?

  3. That’s why I rarely bother with new series/shows, I can almost bet on them being cancelled if I like them.

  4. I didn’t get into ‘House’ until it had been on for five years on FOX. I did give ‘Terra Nova’ a chance, kinda like it, because of Spielberg association with it.

  5. I’m still bitter about Harsh Realm being canceled mid-season. I’ll never watch a show in it’s first season again.

  6. It’s kind of hard to tune into a series when it airs if you only watch television on-line. I see everything the next day streaming. It’s a new age of technology and these networks should look into the potential of streaming-television before Hulu and Netflix take all of their business. I’d much rather get hooked to a series and watch 10-13 episodes on-line in a few weeks instead of sitting and waiting week to week for a show that may or may not get preempted or have its time-slot moved. I prefer watching my shows at my schedule since I can’t always get my kid into bed by exactly 8 o’clock so I can watch Alcatraz, Awake, Man Up…etc. I hope the producers of these cult shows start seeing the trend of streaming as a possibility and take their business away from the big broadcast networks or even start their own streaming network. I pay $8 month apiece for Hulu Plus and Netflix…I’d be willing to pay that much for a couple more television show streaming options.

  7. I only watch new shows if I think it’s pretty much guaranteed to be renewed, like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. It’s a catch 22. I don’t wanna watch the start of the seasons but then if everyone does the same there will never be anything new!

  8. If people aren’t willing to invest in (or are tiring of) long, drawn-out story lines, the solution is simple: bring back anthology series.

    Pick a genre, any genre.
    One story–thirty minutes long.
    Tune in next week–something completely new and unexpected.

    Rod Serling had this figured out a looong time ago.

  9. Still mad about Flash Forward!

    • I concur. I loved Flash Forward and they set it up so well for another 5 or 6 seasons. I enjoyed The Event and V too. They both ended on major cliffhangers and I would’ve liked to see where they went with it. I have highly enjoyed Person Of Interest.

    • ditto

  10. Smallville, The Mentalist, Burn Notice, Person of Interest, and Awake are the only shows I started watching when they first started; unfortunately, Awake is my first experience with a show being axed. It still sucks that Smallville is over.

    • Person of Interest is an awesome show. Picked up on it about halfway through the season and I am hooked. Stupid Time Warner doesn’t have it on their On Demand service either.

  11. Sadly, many network tent-pole series become stale yet go on & on for seasons longer than deserved. Then there’s the plethora of mindless reality shows crammed into every open space imaginable. Meanwhile, it seems the networks pick one or two new shows they think are gems and over-promote them while ignoring other series that could use the boost and/or support of the very network that gave them life. They used to say it took a handful of episodes for a new series to find its legs, for the cast & crew to establish a rapport. But, when they’re only given 13 episodes, they don’t seem to get that chance to truly come together. If the networks took more of a chance on their own product maybe audiences would too.

  12. I really wish since The networks Have other channels ON cable Like fox has FX and fuel for instance if say a show like fringe does ok But doesnt have the ratings they want after the 1st season put it on Fx and build that channel but Promote the show on fox that its moving and they could even play the reruns on the other channel
    It would be a great way for shows like Chuck, dollhouse or even Firefly to survive and help build the channel to

  13. I dont think the Networks are taking into account Neflix,torrents,DVD sale,and DVRS theres Tons of show I love but don’t watch wile there On LIke Dexter and I’m only on ep 12 of supernatural and the finally is on tonight.
    in this Internet,and DVD box set age alot of people wait to see a whole season at once like myself I never watched 24 wile it aired by I watched it on DVD same with Burn notice on netfliz

  14. its always the god dam reality shows that arent being canceled and all the good shows get canned

    • Actually, if you do the math, 9 of the 12 new Reality/Alternative shows got the axe.

    • I totally agree with you. I have never been a real fan of them but I have watched a few. I would much rather have a decent series/story with an ongoing plot than watch a bunch of ppl sitting around whining because someone stepped on their feelings.
      I can pretty much guarantee that if I like a show it is getting cancelled. Usually before the first season ends. I think ppl have proven that they will sit for hours/days/weeks watching a good story so why they have to have 10 month breaks btwn seasons is beyond me. Actors would have a steady income, producers and directors would have a steady income and advertisers would kill to sponsor these shows.

      The biggest thing that is irking me to no iend and making me not even want to watch the few shows that I do watch is this constant 2-4 week breaks btwn episodes. They show two episodes and then wait 2-4 weeks to show another two to three episodes. By the time they start showing the next group of episodes the show has lost all continuity. I usually have forgotten what the ongoing plots were and it frustrates the hell out of the viewers. It is no wonder they are losing ratings when they only choose to air 10 to 13 episodes a season. They space them out over a couple of months by not showing them every week and then you have to go almost a full year without seeing anything at all btwn seasons. With all of the breaks btwn episodes you have no idea if they are just taking a break or if they have cancelled the show completely.

      Not everyone has a DVR so how many ppl just simply forget that the show is on a 2 to 4 week break and miss the show completely. The ppl scheduling these shows are a big reason that the networks are losing ratings.

  15. as Mongoose so aptly put it, if you ain’t got one of those ratings boxes hooked up to your TV, then it really doesn’t matter one iota whether you watch a show or not.

    Now, just think, in general (and I KNOW this will be a possibly cruel and mildly bigoted generalization) what kind of people don’t mind being imposed upon to write down every channel change, every moment of surf, every program every member of the family watches?

    What kind of household doesn’t mind having a set-top box added to the living room (or TV room, or wherever that big flat-screen TV is hanging)?

    Do you really think that the people who are interested in more high-brow or high-concept TV shows are the ones who would readily accept becoming a Nielsen family?

    Personally, I don’t believe that the Nielsen boxes are a true cross-section of the viewing audience. I actually believe quite firmly that Nielsen households are probably more representative of a considerably more “low brow” segment of the population.

    So sue me, I’m a pessimist. I think that the studios are basing their “research” and their ideas about what people are watching, on trailer park trash.

    That is the ONLY explanation I can conceive of for the state of television in the 21st century.

    Idiocracy, here we come.

  16. What puzzles me additionally is why the successful shows over the years are now getting canned.
    Why stop Boston Legal, and now Harry’s Law? After 10 seasons CSI Miami still packed a punch.
    House still grabbed hold of your senses and rattled them.
    AWAKE was so original in it’s concept and needed time to build.
    Keifer Sutherland was the only reason they kept Touch on for another year. Now that it has been moved to Fridays, a second season is all we can hope for.
    And who really watches The Middle, Modern Family, Glee, Smash and all the survival shows?
    The biggest insult to television is the continued renewal of The Simpsons.
    Sad situation.

    • Gods I hate Glee and I haven’t watched The Simpson’s in years.

  17. If it’s clever and I like it…Then that’s almost the same as a Kiss Of Death. Fortunately some cable stations will stick with shows a lot longer than the national stations…CW is a prime example of that…A show like Supernatural probably wouldn’t be considered high enough in the numbers to continue, but they plan at least two more seasons.

  18. Perhaps they need to start monitoring how often the show is watched online/streaming. It seems that with all the busy schedules, kids, social lives, cooking, cleaning, knitting(ok just me there), and other things that need to be done people just don’t have the time or inclination to sit down and stare at the TV. Or are watching things like Discovery or Nat Geo or… *gasp* PBS! I loves me some Antique Roadshow… (don’t tell my mother, she’ll never let me live that down).

    If given a choice between watching Nat Geo’s 2012 Apocalypse series or MOST of the current shows on I’d choose Nat Geo. Or I’d even have the husband fire up something on his laptop and hook it up to the TV to watch. Hulu is our friend.

  19. Awake is the most gut wrenching cancellation this season. Such an original and thought provoking show. Now it has been canned by America’s least watched network! (Maybe that is the CW but who cares) NBC keeps trash like Whitney, the long out run it’s course The Office (which I used to love), and other shows and get rid of the one show that was thought provoking and challenged an audience. That is the problem though. A lot of audiences don’t want to be challenged. They want a few laughs in a half an hour or they want to watch some crappy reality TV show. Crap like Jersey Shore sees no end in sight but great shows are getting cut. I am so utterly disappointed.

  20. Got tired of the my favorite shows getting cancelled after a few episodes or one season so I rarely watch new shows. Also because of the hours I work, I now stream on Hulu Plus and Netflix (I can watch some series from start to finish). Wish CBS would stream their shows on Hulu because they have a lousy player.

    • I do the same thing and agree about CBS. Also, CBS stopped streaming Person of Interest about halfway through the season. That was upsetting.

  21. There should be also some passion when people produce something. Profits are fundamental but they are not everything. This whole system make the actors to be like puppets and we viewers as well. I definitely only watch a TV series after being confirmed the second season. Not want to waste my time in some crap that is just filling up someone’s pockets, someone that in the end is just a coward that quits at the firs sign of problem!

  22. First, Anthony, I wanted to say great article. Really informative. I was wondering if you could tell where you found your statistics.

  23. I am beginning more and more to pay attention,more carefully as to what .I get so tired of investing 12 to 15
    episodes, and then suddenly its gone. No mention of if its coming back or even if its the final episode.
    Surley when they start a 12 to 14 episode they at the first one know that 12 will be the last one for that
    season. So could they not end it some what with a finish. Its like reading a book and the last page is torn out

  24. this is unacceptable, not to mention idiotic on the part of the networks. none of us “watch tv” anymore, not in the traditional sense. yet, they still try to “measure” popularity using that old definition. no. people hoarde shows. people discover shows. most importantly, people don’t like watching tv anymore. they like watching shows. the fact that networks are killing off works of art (remember “threshold”?) simply because a 90-iq hillbilly is not interested in it proves that this shining genre of motion picture, “the series”, should move to a different platform, one that is less corporate if possible. in turkey, a show got “forcibly finalized” due to political pressures, and now the team is considering contracting some theaters around the country at which to show new episodes they plan to shoot, without the political pressure of tv. they also plan on having the viewers directly fund the production this way. i think tv storytelling has become too good to leave on the laps of these fools.

    • I have said basically the same thing. But good shows are getting canceled left and right without really letting people get a feel for them.

  25. I really wish television networks would take into consideration that many people watch shows other ways than just on cable. Now with so many entities to view your favorite shows, like Hulu Plus and Netflix, it’s much easier to watch something in your own time. So many if the shows I watch and love are being canceled due to ratings. But those ratings don’t really reflect what they should. I have also discovered shows after they have ran and been so disappointed to find out they were canceled.