The broadcast networks will officially unveil their 2014-2015 schedules this week at their annual upfront presentations in New York City (NBC has already released its schedule) and late last week announced which current shows will be returning and which have been cancelled. For fans of the cancelled series, the mourning period has begun. You can find a complete list here.
There are a lot of new obscurities on the list of cancelled shows. Some premiered back in September, others at mid-season and there are even a few spring tryouts that debuted in the past month or so (Bad Teacher premiered on CBS on April 24th and was officially cancelled on May 10th).
Are Viewers Refusing To Watch New Shows?
Reading about all of the cancellations and pickups over the past few days got me to thinking about how now, more than ever before, there are some shows that never have a chance. They’re all but assured to be quickly cancelled and become new obscurities. Case in point this season: FOX’s Surviving Jack.
For the majority of you reading this who didn’t watch it and probably haven’t even heard of it, Surviving Jack was a sitcom that premiered on Thursday, March 27th. The show was given the post-American Idol time slot, which these days means next to nothing, and doesn’t appear to have received much promotion. In other words, it was doomed from the start and that was reflected in the ratings, which were low and led FOX to cancel the series. Eight episodes were produced but only seven have aired. Did viewers not tune in because they weren’t aware of the show, weren’t interested in watching it or because they felt it wasn’t worth getting invested in a show that wasn’t going to last?
(For the record, I watched every episode of Surviving Jack on FOX and thought the show was hilarious.)
Anecdotal evidence suggests to me that there is the belief among some viewers that the rate of quick cancellations has been increasing over the past few years. Heavily serialized dramas, particularly those with science-fiction or fantasy elements, tend to attract hardcore fans who are understandably upset when their favorite new shows end on a cliffhanger. With every cancellation without resolution, are these viewers less inclined to tune in to the next high concept drama? With every procedural or sitcom cancelled after three or four episodes, are more casual viewers learning to think twice before sampling new shows?
Likewise, are savvy viewers waiting to see how new shows fare in the Nielsen ratings before deciding whether or not to tune in? Social media has made it easier and faster than ever for fans to learn how their favorite shows did in the ratings. There seem to be more and more websites reporting ratings these days as well. So are people recording the first few episodes of a new show on their DVR, waiting to hear how it is performing, and deleting the episodes without watching them if the show’s early ratings aren’t good. Once again, anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that even casual viewers are starting to do this.
And yet, even with all the quick cancellations and one season wonders, there have been many shows over the past four or five years with very low ratings that have been renewed rather than cancelled. Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable for low-rated shows like Community, The Goldbergs, The Mindy Project or Hannibal to stay on the air for a full season, let alone multiple seasons. But these are the shows being renewed time and time again. So what are viewers to think? Do they stick with a low-rated new show because even with low ratings it might get renewed? Or do they give up because it won’t last and it’s not worth getting invested?
A Recent Phenomenon
The vicious cycle of networks cancelling low-rated shows because not enough viewers are watching and viewers not watching new shows because too many of them are quickly cancelled for being low-rated isn’t new, although it may have accelerated in the past decade or so. Long before that, the networks were regularly pulling new shows at mid-season due to low ratings. But until the 1970s, it was relatively unusual for a new show to be cancelled after only a few episodes.
One early example was Doc Corkle, which aired on NBC for just three weeks in October 1952 before it was cancelled. When ABC canned The Tammy Grimes Show after only four episodes in September 1966 it was a big deal because it was such a quick cancellation.
For those who were around in the 1960s and 1970s and watching television, did you ever decide not to watch a new show because you didn’t think it would last? There weren’t a lot of viewing options in those days. If you weren’t watching ABC, CBS or NBC and you were lucky you could watch an educational or independent station. Or nothing at all.
Take my very favorite obscurity, ABC’s The New People. It had the misfortune of facing both Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In on NBC and Here’s Lucy on CBS — two of the most popular shows on television at the time — when it premiered in September 1969. It also had an unusual time slot, running from 8:15-9PM, which certainly didn’t help. Assuming that watching it was an option, meaning somebody else wasn’t controlling the remote, were there people who thought maybe it looked interesting but decided not to watch it because of its competition? I doubt it, to be honest, but who knows.
Hit the comments with your thoughts. Have you ever not watched a new show because you knew it would be cancelled? If so, was it within the past five years or a long time ago?