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! (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 (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): 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): 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.]