Lessons of the Fall: Cancellations Begin as CBS Hits Stir

The first casualties of the 2010-11 broadcast season have been trundled away on a gurney, the victims of abysmal ratings and premises that didn’t jibe with the cavalcade of procedurals, cop shows and legal dramas that define network television. And while Fox’s Lone Star and ABC’s My Generation were snuffed after a mere two episodes, analysts and agency executives said a quick death is just the cost of doing business on broadcast TV.

After bowing Sept. 20 to just 4.1 million viewers, Lone Star collapsed entirely in its second outing, drawing 3.2 million viewers and a bottom-scraping 1.0 in adults 18-49, down 23 percent from the premiere. As such, Fox had little choice but to put the drama out of its misery. “The networks aren’t just looking at the Nielsen ratings; they also closely monitor what’s being said about a show on the Web,” said Lyle Schwartz, managing partner, research and marketplace analysis, GroupM. “The risk of having a bad show is substantial from a financial point of view, and the networks aren’t willing to take unnecessary risks.”

Season to date (through Wednesday, Sept. 29) Fox ranks third in the 18-49 demo, but the network has historically been a slow starter. And while the loss of Lone Star erases one-third of the network’s new fall efforts––other freshman series are struggling Raising Hope and Running Wilde––it has another five or six new shows in the can.

With 10 days of the new season on the books, CBS remains the network to beat in total viewers and holds an advantage among the all-important 18-49 demo. Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings, CBS is averaging 12.7 million viewers (up 3 percent versus the year-ago period), followed by ABC (10.4 million, -4 percent), NBC (8 million, +7 percent), Fox (6.8 million, -10 percent) and The CW (2.3 million, +7 percent).

In the 18-49 demo, CBS 14 is beating second-place ABC by 14 percent, notching a 3.3 rating/10 share to its rival’s 2.9/8. CBS is flat versus a year ago while ABC is down 6 percent. Fox ranks third (2.8/ 8, -12 percent), edging NBC (2.7/ 8, +4 percent). The CW has improved 10 percent (1.1/ 3, +10), but among its target audience, women 18-34, the network has slipped 5 percent (1.8/ 5).

While established franchises continue to dominate prime time, a number of new series looks promising. Three CBS programs have emerged as the most-watched freshman shows of the young season, as the Hawaii Five-O refresh has averaged 13.5 million viewers and a 3.9 rating/11 share among 18-49s while Mike & Molly has drawn 11.7 million viewers and a 3.8/10 demo rating. Leading out of the successfully transplanted Big Bang Theory, the premiere of the Twitter-generated William Shatner comedy $#*! My Dad Says scared up 12.6 million viewers and a 4.0/12 Thursday night at 8:30.

Bolstered by a roster of TV and pop-culture curiosities (Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, Bristol Palin), ABC’s Dancing With the Stars is averaging a whopping 21.3 million viewers on Monday. Sophomore comedy Modern Family has also been a boon on Wednesday nights. That said, ABC’s newcomers are a mixed bag as No Ordinary Family bowed to a solid 10.7 million viewers and a 3.2/9 among adults 18-49 in the Tuesday anchor spot (opposite CBS’ NCIS and Fox’s Glee) while aforementioned My Generation is now officially history. Episode two of the instant-nostalgia drama fell to a 1.1 adults 18-49 rating, down 32 percent from its premiere rating. (Despite its comely cast of twentysomethings, the median age of My Generation is north of 50.)

Researchers said there are some concerns about dwindling youth deliveries. “Overall, teens have declined significantly,” Schwartz said. “They just seem not to be there this year, and we don’t know if that’s a question of the programming or a function of the Nielsen sampling.”