Just when it seemed like the broadcast networks were actually going to make it through the whole 2016-17 TV season without canceling a freshman show, CBS waved the white flag on Friday night, pulling its midseason legal drama Doubt from the schedule after just two episodes.
The network announced it had yanked the Katherine Heigl drama, which aired Wednesday at 10 p.m., effective immediately. Next Wednesday, CBS is airing a repeat of Bull, broadcast’s most-watched new drama in total viewers this season.
Its time slot replacement for the rest of the season will be Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, which will air its Season 2 premiere on March 8.
The show’s days were numbered after its Feb. 15 premiere drew just a 0.8 rating in the demo, and 5.3 million total viewers. That dropped to a 0.6 rating, and 4 million viewers, in week 2.
Only Ransom, the low-cost drama that CBS is experimenting with as its first Saturday night drama in 13 years, is fairing worse on the network, averaging 0.5 in the demo and 3.8 million total viewers.
It’s unprecedented for the broadcast networks to go this far into the season before pulling the plug on a show. Last season, Wicked City was the first show canceled, with ABC giving it the ax on Nov. 13, after three episodes aired. It was the latest the networks had waited to cancel a show in more than 15 years—until now.
In recent years, as audiences have rejected repeat episodes, the networks have shifted their approach to cancelling underperforming first-year series, and would now prefer to air a low-rated original episode than a repeat.
That’s why ABC stuck by its instant flop Notorious, its fall replacement for Scandal. The show averaged just a 0.9 rating in the 18-49 demographic, which is less than half of the 2.1 that Scandal brought in last season. It also helped drain the network’s usually robust Thursday-night ad revenue last fall, according to Standard Media Index.
An ABC source explained to Adweek last month that while the network considered moving Notorious to another night, it was left with no other options because any alternate show would have been displaced again when Scandal returned in January and would have required additional marketing resources to announce each schedule change. Reruns of Scandal would have rated even lower than Notorious’ anemic numbers, added the source, so ABC opted to just ride out the bloodbath and hope Scandal could erase the damage come January.
Networks are now so afraid to utter the c-word (cancellation) that not a single show this season has been officially canceled, with ABC’s other anemically-rated freshman drama Conviction also permitted to finish its entire run.
That might include Doubt: While the show clearly won’t be back for Season 2, CBS insisted that it could still return to the schedule later on (bet on the network burning off the remaining episodes during the summer). Also, because production was competed on all 13 episodes last fall, there’s no shut-down in production that would normally accompany an abrupt scheduling hook like this.
While CBS might not be admitting that Doubt is canceled, one of the show’s stars, Dulé Hill, had no such qualms about using the word on Twitter.
The network’s other big midseason drama, Training Day, isn’t doing much better than Doubt, averaging a 0.8 in the demo after 4 weeks (4.2 million). However, CBS is having better luck with its new sitcom Superior Donuts, which averaging 1.5 in the demo and 8 million weekly viewers.
CBS’ rocky midseason is a far cry from its fall freshman lineup of shows that, while critically reviled, found an loyal audience with its core viewers, including Bull, Kevin Can Wait and The Great Indoors.