Some five weeks in, the new TV season is more notable for what hasn't happened yet: no new show has been canceled.
Usually, by now, some four or five fall shows have already bit the dust, even amid audience complaints that they hardly got to know these newbies after just two or three episodes. In the past, the sentence for low ratings has been to euthanize these series before they can bleed more money. So why hasn't the guillotine blade fallen even once yet?
It's not because the network chiefs are all mouthing silent hallelujahs over having finally broken the code and having created a perfect slate of perfect shows that are all hits. Indeed, some new shows are already on the bubble Yet so far, the "Utopias" and "Mulaneys" of the new season have all earned an indefinite stay of execution.
Why are the networks so merciful this season? Theories abound among TV experts across the Internet. One culprit is the Nielsen ratings themselves, cast into doubt by the recent scandal, a software glitch that tended to favor ABC series over their timeslot rivals. The error persisted for only a few months, but it must have the executives behind underperforming new shows wondering if they're getting full credit for the number of folks actually watching.
Another factor may be baseball, especially at Fox, a channel that's usually brutally quick to ax a low-rated new show. Post-season games and now the World Series have played havoc with Fox's new primetime schedule, so the network is taking that into account and cutting its shows extra slack, the theory goes. Which does help explain why such clear underperformers as "Utopia" and "Mulaney" (so low-rated that Fox just curtailed its script order) are still on the air.
But the most common explanation is that no one knows what the rules are anymore. How do you measure a hit or a flop in an age of DVRs, streaming, binge-watching, on-demad, live Tweeting, and other new ways of delivering TV programming and determining its popularity. Even without the recent glitch, it's clear to all the networks that the old-fashioned Nielsen methods of measuring prime-time viewership -- or even its more recent measurements of "live plus seven" (the number of people who watch a show on DVR within a week of its airdate) -- no longer adequately reflects the ways people actually watch TV these days.
Then again, this has been the case for at least a couple years now. So there may be some additional factors this season that have stayed the executioner's hand. One I haven't seen mentioned is the fact that this season's debuts have been unusually staggered. Some shows debuted early, the second week in September, and some still haven't debuted yet and won't premiere until late October or early November.
There's also the midseason replacements, those series waiting in the wings to replace the fall shows that fail. So far, none of them has been called up to fill in on the fall line-up. Could it be that the networks have little faith in these winter shows, so little that they're delaying their debuts for as long as possible? Better the devil you know.
Finally, pilots have become so expensive that the networks want to make sure they're getting their money's worth before giving up on their investment. For instance, Fox's "Gotham" actually is a hit (it's the second most popular new drama, after ABC's "How to Get Away With Murder"). Which is good because, with its elaborate sets, cast of thousands, and epic scope, "Gotham" must be one of the most expensive dramas on TV. Think Fox would want to dump a show like that before wringing out every possible dime and attracting every possible pair of eyeballs?
VIewers, enjoy this moment while you can. After all, smart TV watchers can smell blood in the water as easily as network executives can, and they can be just as leery of making a commitment to a show they know is doomed. When there are so many good shows, new and old, demanding your time and your DVR space, why make an emotional investment in a series you know will be canceled by Thanksgiving? For now, however, you can feel good about making a date on Thursdays with "Murder," or Mondays with "Gotham," or with fellow newcomers "Black-ish" and "Scorpion." But be more tentative about getting involved with any of the new lookalike romantic comedies ("Manhattan Love Story," "A to Z," etc.), and you may be asking for heartbreak if you devote yourself to "Utopia" or "Mulaney." Because this period of mercy could end at any time, and when it does, that guillotine blade will fall as swiftly as ever.
categories Tv News