If a TV series is placed in a terrible time slot and no one is around to watch it, does it make a noise in the ratings? Of course not, which is the conundrum of network TV scheduling: Every show, no matter how good or bad, is ultimately at the mercy of its time slot, especially when it’s put in one of the spots that routinely repels audiences.
As CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler explained recently, “You get into the room with a bunch of options, and it is [like] moving pieces around on the chessboard.” Except that on TV, some of the chessboard squares are more like black holes, where series after series quickly disappear without a trace. One ABC time slot was so toxic that it took down three shows last season, and that radioactivity can linger for years.
Those scorched-earth time slots are once again wreaking havoc on new shows this fall. While two long-doomed spots seem to be safe for viewers again—the Mysteries of Laura has reclaimed Wednesdays at 8 p.m. for NBC, while a relocated Grey’s Anatomy has brought audiences back to ABC on Thursdays at 8 p.m.—others have already slid into television’s equivalent of death row.
Here are the 10 worst time slots on broadcast television. Abandon hope, all ye who are scheduled here:
Sundays, 10 p.m., ABC
Since Brothers & Sisters ended its run in 2011, ABC has debuted and quickly canceled five forgettable dramas: Pan Am, GCB, 666 Park Avenue, Red Widow and last fall’s Betrayal, none of which drew more than 7.6 million viewers. Its new hope is past-its-prime Revenge, which hasn’t done much to erase the spot’s lousy ratings.
Mondays, 8:30 p.m., CBS
The very time period that launched The Big Bang Theory—now TV’s top-rated series—back in 2007, has been churning out duds since 2009: Accidentally on Purpose, Mad Love, Partners, and last season’s terrible twofer of We Are Men and Friends With Better Lives. (The lone exception: 2011’s successful launch of 2 Broke Girls, which averaged 11.3 million viewers; most of the other sitcoms couldn’t crack 7 million.) The network has been plugging the gap this season with The Big Bang Theory repeats but resumes original programming this week. Our condolences, The Millers!
Mondays, 10 p.m., CBS
The night doesn’t get any better for CBS at 10 p.m., where things suddenly became toxic after Hawaii Five-O left in 2013 as its ratings softened. Hostages failed spectacularly last fall (7.6 million viewers); Intelligence didn't do much better in the spring (10.2 million viewers), and this fall the spot has managed to do something that once seemed impossible: wound NCIS: Los Angeles, which averaged 16 million viewers last year but now draws little more than half that in its inhospitable new home.
Tuesdays, 8 p.m., Fox
Almost any Fox time slot would qualify for this list in what has been a nightmarish fall for the network. But this space has been particularly brutal since onetime hit Glee ceded the spot in 2011 (and then again in 2012) to perennially low-rated Raising Hope and blink-and-you-missed-them sitcoms (I Hate My Teenage Daughter, Ben and Kate), before making way for last season’s odious Dads. Last spring, the too-little, too-late return of Glee resulted in its lowest ratings ever. This season, the spot has already claimed Utopia (trimmed from a two-night-per-week run to Fridays only), which is pretty much the opposite of what this time slot has been for Fox.
Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m., ABC
While the entire 8 p.m. hour deserves a spot on this list, 8:30 p.m. wins out (or, more accurately, loses out) for being home to some of the very worst shows in recent memory: the 2011-2012 shameful combination of Man Up! and Work It. (Yes, those were the show’s actual titles. And yes, they were even worse than they sound.) ABC’s hyped No Ordinary Family couldn’t get traction here in 2010. Things rebounded a bit with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last season, though that series hasn’t made the ratings splash that ABC so desperately needed. Now it has returned to Man Up!/Work It territory with Manhattan Love Story, a strong candidate for one of the season’s first cancelations with only 3 million tuning in last week.
Tuesdays, 10 p.m., ABC
Out of all the entries on this list, this might be the very worst time slot in all of television, as last season it laid waste to no less than three ABC dramas: Lucky 7, Killer Women and Mind Games, only one of which topped 5 million viewers. Aside from occasional positive numbers for Body of Proof, this has been a ratings wasteland for years, as dramas like The Forgotten and Detroit 1-8-7 faded quickly here. While this fall’s sacrificial lamb, Forever, isn’t begging for instant cancellation like its predecessors, it hasn’t yet reversed ABC’s Tuesday night fortunes.
Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m., ABC
Ever since Modern Family launched in 2009, ABC has tried and failed to find a suitable lead-out for it: RIP Mr. Sunshine, Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, Happy Endings, and How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life). Last year saw the worst entries yet in Super Fun Night and Mixology, neither of which was able to retain even half of Modern Family's audience. And while the promising Black-ish seems to have finally reversed the curse (it received a full-season pickup from ABC on Oct. 9), given ABC’s historical bungling of this slot, it remains on the list for now.
Thursdays, 9 p.m., Fox
Fox shifted the American Idol results show to Thursdays in 2011 and has yet to capitalize on that strong lead-in and keep viewers around for whatever is airing after it. The casualty list includes The Finder, Touch and last year’s combo of Rake and Surviving Jack (the latter aired at 9:30 p.m.). This year’s entry, limited series Gracepoint, is predictably living down to expectations, with 3.7 million viewers last week.
Thursdays, 9:30 p.m., NBC
This time slot has managed to do the impossible: turn audiences against a beloved icon like Michael J. Fox. But that’s exactly what happened with last season’s The Michael J. Fox Show, which drew just 5.1 million viewers and met the same grim fate as previous occupants 1600 Penn, Whitney, Up All Night and Outsourced. And after just three weeks on the air, A to Z (only 3.4 million viewers) is already preparing for last rites.
Fridays, 9 p.m., Fox
The network made do with a fading Fringe here in its final seasons, but it has been downhill ever since. Touch finally succumbed in 2013, while Raising Hope and Enlisted—two terrific shows that deserved much better than their 2.7 million viewers apiece—were snuffed out last season. Fox has already waved the white flag, scheduling only repeats here this fall, which is an approach that more networks should consider when it comes to dealing with their toxic time slots.