This is a sad week for fans of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, as FOX has canceled the comedy series after five seasons. Fans are understandably devastated, oscillating between anger at the network, sadness at seeing their favorite show cut short, and pleading with other platforms like Hulu and Netflix to rescue it. While FOX hasn't given an official reason for the cancelation, it looks like a textbook case of declining live viewing ratings, coupled with Brooklyn Nine-Nine having enough episodes under its belt to be ready for syndication.
While Brooklyn Nine-Nine's fans are certainly plentiful, passionate and vocal on social media, the show's live viewing ratings have consistently been dropping from season to season. After averaging 4.8 million viewers per episode in season 1, Brooklyn Nine-Nine managed to draw only 2 million live viewers with its season 5 premiere. The show's numbers held strong between seasons 1 and 2, but began to decline precipitously from season 3 onwards.
If you're confused about why such a popular show looks so unpopular on paper, it's because the live viewing numbers don't tell the whole story for a show like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, whose audience favors time-shifted viewing and binge-watching. When asked about the declining ratings late last year, co-creator Dan Goor told TV Guide:
"[FOX's] official statement to us is they don't look at that kind of ratings data and I hope to god that is true. But also, our show does very well in the Live+7 setting, and we're one of the most-watched live-action shows on Hulu. I think that is of interest to Fox. But the truth is, in this era of television, it's tough, especially with our live ratings. I think there are a lot of families with kids who watch our show, and unfortunately at 9:30, that means they're often watching it in a time-shifted way because kids aren't staying up that late."
So, why was Brooklyn Nine-Nine renewed twice in the face of declining ratings, and why is it being canceled now? In a word: syndication. By the end of season 3, it was more lucrative in the long-term for FOX to keep the show going until it hit the coveted 100-episode mark. The cable syndication rights for the first five seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine were sold to TBS in 2016, at an estimated $500,000 per episode. Assuming that price point is accurate, season 5 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is worth $11 million from the TBS deal alone.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine fans shouldn't despair, however. The show's popularity means it's unlikely to stay dead for long, but instead will simply make a move to a platform that better suits its audience's preferred viewing habits. Mere hours after news of the cancelation broke, Deadline reported that there was already interest from multiple outlets, with Brooklyn Nine-Nine's SVOD platform Hulu looking most likely to pick the series up for a sixth season. So, dry your tears and watch next week's season finale with hope for the show's future.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine airs Sundays at 9:30pm on FOX.