Thursday, October 25, 2018


Networks are so quick to claim victory. A show premieres to good numbers and immediately the network is crowing. “The Breakout hit of the season!” “America’s New Favorite Comedy!”

And then week two comes along.

And many of these “breakout hits” sink like a stone. In a number of cases these “favorite new comedies” quietly get cancelled at the end of the year.

THE CONNERS on Tuesday night dropped almost 30% from its debut. Now a drop was certainly expected but not that much. Now that we’ve learned the fate of Roseanne and viewers saw that most of the jokes in the premier revolved around Roseanne the bloom is off the rose. Not that THE CONNERS is bad creatively (it's better than most) or lost all its audience, but I think it will now just settle into being a middle-of-the-pack show. Within one week they relinquished their top spot of the night rating. So all the victory laps were a little premature.

And again, what is even considered a hit today in broadcast television? BLACKISH got less than a 1.0 share and was seen by only 3.8 million people. Sure, you could blame World Series competition but the other networks didn’t suffer.

I’m just stunned by how low network numbers are now. They’re almost becoming non-factors. How do network executives look at these ratings – for shows that are supposedly established hits or giant stunts – and not want to jump off of Space Mountain?

At what point do networks say, “Maybe we’re putting on the wrong shows? Maybe we better re-think these tepid family sitcoms and find something that’s really different and FUNNY. And maybe we get out of the way and let talented showrunners follow their vision and not our research. “

Of course this will never happen. Primetime network television will eventually cease to exist, crushed by a runaway glacier.


Curt Alliaume said...

Primetime network television can't get hit by a runaway glacier due to climate change. Would you believe a tsunami?

John in NE Ohio said...

For me it doesn't matter if it is good or not. I am spoiled by Netflix and/or DVDs. If it is good, I will binge it either on Netflix or DVD. No commercials, pause when I want, watch 3 hours in a row when I want. Especially on a non-comedy, make sure it wasn't cancelled after a cliffhanger so I can find out how it ends, etc.
Networks/cable is only for live sports, and that is questionable. Most of the big games come on too late, and the pace is completely ruined by commercial breaks. I rarely watch a game I don't have a rooting interest in anymore, and in the case of baseball/basketball/hockey where there are a lot of games, not even then except for big games and playoffs.

Janet Ybarra said...

What will our life look like if primetime TV really were to no longer exist?

I'm not being facetious. Think about it. American family life has more or less revolved around primetime TV for 3 or 4 generations now.

It's really a fascinating sociological question.

Speaking of network comedies, Ken, I have an FQ for you, related to Chuck Lorre series. Specifically, I'm wondering what you think about those little vanity cards he tacks on the end of his episodes. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes they seem to make a point. Are they popular among other TV writers and producers? Why don't more do them?

Or do you not like them?


Janet Ybarra said...

Also, perhaps networks need to change how they measure viewership.

I understand that they measure viewership in terms of watching live plus those who watch DVR same day.

That seems unnecessarily limiting.

In our home, we could watch a show on DVR days after live air, and that's not a not a knock on that show. We just may be busy or whatever.

So why not capture a wider DVR audience? Also, networks tout their On Demand. We take advantage of that as well.

Since On Demand is an accepted thing, why can't that viewership be factored in also?

Just as technology changes, our viewing habits are changing, and perhaps viewing measurements should adapt as well.

James said...

I'm a fan of the old and new versions of The Connors. I'm hoping they'll leave it on the air enough to build up a following. I know the networks (broadcast, cable and streaming) all want immediate breakout hits, but the history of TV is full of examples of powerhouse shows that started weak and built up steam as they gathered an audience (Dick Van Dyke show, All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, Cheers and Seinfeld all come to mind).

IF The Connors builds back up again, maybe it'll boost traditional sitcoms with well-rounded characters, real-world conflicts, and humor that comes from character and situation rather than Morey Amsterdam's encyclopedia of jokes; or quirky meta-humor that isn't funny but looked good in a meme that the male demographic 12-19 would recognize.

Dhruv said...

Very interesting podcast Ken. Thanks :)

I searched YouTube and found the movie

Lots of views and comments. You will love reading them and also how people co-relate to the movie in various ways like it was filmed in their city, memories of the first time they saw the movie, how much they like it, etc...

Just a question : Did you like James Horner's music?

E. Yarber said...

Sometimes you can paint yourself into a corner with a hook that takes over the rest of what you're doing. TWIN PEAKS originally seemed to be drawing huge numbers of viewers by presenting a new type of storytelling, but in the end the audience was basically waiting for a very simple answer to a single question: "Who killed Laura Palmer?" When the network felt that the matter had gone on too long and the viewers would switch off unless they were satisfied on that point, they pushed the creators to solve the mystery. Once the mystery was solved, the viewers switched off.

tavm said...

The days of "I Love Lucy", "All in the Family", and "The Cosby Show" are now over...

Dan Signer said...

Live viewer ratings used to be the measure of a show's success, but now they are a single piece of a much larger puzzle. The true measure is profit and with so many ways a show is exploited these days (live air, DVR viewing, web streaming, Netflix window, cable window, international sales, iTunes sales, product placement, etc.) they look at the sum total of those and decide whether something is a hit. The days of deficit financing are over, with most shows making a profit from day one. Blackish may have only gotten a 1.0, but that episode will be watched by way more than 3.8 million people (given the World Series, I'm sure it will get a huge +7 bump). And I'm sure it is very profitable.

tavm said...

E. Yarber, yeah, I think the difference between "TP" after "WKLP" and "Dallas" after "Who Shot J.R.?" was people cared about the characters on the latter, especially J.R., than they cared about any one on "TP" since those characters were too strange to be relatable while the Ewings on "Dallas", despite them being rich and all, were very much so.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Pretty sure Jim Ignatowski warned ABC about THE CONNERS.

James Van Hise said...

Isn't the problem the vast number of viewing choices? It's not just the couple hundred channels on cable TV but also the streaming services. I get Britbox, Acorn, Netflix and Amazon Prime and there are more that I don't subscribe to, and with the streaming services you can watch a new show whenever you want. Appointment TV isn't what it used to be.

Ghost of Carson said...

From what I read, the main cast had to be paid anyway for the season once "Roseanne" was cancelled, so I'll give them and ABC credit for producing the show.

While we are on the topic of viewers, the three late-night shows are now watched live by a combined 7M and fading rapidly. They used to be funny but now it mostly rude political comments and of course with the Internet/Social Media, its not that exclusive to see the stars at 11:30.

Conan O'Brien made the right choice to ditch guests and the one hour format. The guests are lame, have nothing to say and if they do have something to say, its old news by the time the show airs since the show puts the clip on Twitter/You Tube.

Peter said...

Ken, would you agree with me that De Niro and others should sue the orange turd for inciting violence?

How bad do things have to get before the Republicans or the cabinet take action against this vile man?

Who am I kidding, they won't do anything no matter how much worse it gets. The word evil comes to mind.

Stubblejumpers Cafe said...

Most of the sitcoms I sit through don't even elicit a chuckle, laugh track notwithstanding. As with The Connors' first episode, I watch them once and don't bother again. I wonder why they receive so many kudos in social media; guess it's all down to promotion, which isn't to be trusted. -Kate

Janet Ybarra said...

I'm not sure Conan's format change was either his idea or voluntary--especially since it meant he had to can his Basic Cable Band which I think is the sad part of Conan's format change.

Maybe to keep the band and format, he should have moved off cable and gone to a streaming service.

Janet Ybarra said...

Yes, we may have a vast number of viewing choices. And it may sound like a cliched joke, but more often than not we will scroll through our channel guide and still complain, "Nothing good is on."

Tom said...

Agreed that The Conners may klunk here and there but isn't dreadful; I dare imagine the calculation at least to try was pretty simple given the talent under contract.

About primetime, it's completely irrelevant to my habits. I've no problem with drip drip serialisation but my only interactions with broadcast TV are mediated via Hulu. If I have some downtime I see what's available. I don't even know which day anything I watch is ordinarily broadcast on, let alone the network or time.

Someone mentioned the late night guys, and I'm also bored of them. 90% of the problems with the current political discourse may emanate from Washington, but adding an extra 10% doesn't feel helpful. The jokes are tired, and you're just helping that particular target to win.

Michael said...

Friday question: What did think of Modern Family promoting they were killing off a 'significant' character and it turning out to be Shelly Long's character who only appeared in 7 episodes in 10 years?

Anonymous said...

Or maybe they finally move away from the antiquated Nielsen system...

Xmastime said...

Yeah, Im spoiled by having Netflix/Amazon/Hulu/Acorn/Britbox etc. I do however watch the Conners simply because for decades I loved the show. I thought the reboot last reason was really good once it got over a few early clunky Trump moments, even tho having seen Roseanne's tweets I was just waiting for her to mess it up. The Conners is still better than most of whatever else is on network tv, if only because of the wonderful cast and how well we already know the characters. They're a personification of that warm, comfy afghan that's been on the couch for 30 years now.

Unknown said...

There’s an obvious lack of creativity when they retool shows like Murphy Brown, although I do still find it pretty funny!

Terrence Moss said...

That first episode was fantastic -- especially given the largely-unprecedented circumstances. I'm glad the show returned as "The Conners". But I don't think a lot of people are giving it a fair shake - especially as it relates to the ratings. Next week we'll get a sense of the raw 7-day DVR lift.

Mary Stella said...

I wasn't a regular watcher of the original Roseanne, so I didn't care when they brought it back then cancelled it, then rethought it as The Connors.

On the other hand, I watched the original Murphy Brown consistently and am a fan of the rejuvenated show. I am disappointed to read that the ratings have been only "okay" and hope that the series gets a chance to continue.

Terrence Moss said...

A lot of people haven't been fair about "The Conners". What they put together last week in the wake of a largely unprecedented circumstance was perfect.

The show now has a clear focus and perspective that was missing from the lone season of the more politically - minded "Roseanne" revival.

But too many people are pissed that she's off the show and others are too pissed that it even continued on to give it a shot. And it's unfortunate. It's what network broadcast television needs more of.

Anonymous said...

Another point is not just how much of "cookie" cutter shows are are presented depending upon last years hits but also how many commercials are added.
When an 30 minute show only takes 19 minutes ( or less) without them it almost becomes hard to keep track.
Election cycle might kill network TV just because they will squeeze as many ads in as people pay for but the audience gets increasingly frustrated and disilliussioned with the amount of entertainment to commercials are presented.
Hard to tell how good a show is when one only sees snippets of it between hucksters selling catheters, cars, feminine hygeine, medicine for illnesses that never existed before the "cure" was invented and now politicians pushing, espiacially when they are pushing a conspicious lie ( really the thuglicans want to protect health care, after spending decades to destroy it -medicare-Obama care etc, be real)

Perhaps try a show with 5 minutes of commercials, no more, and just keep jacking the price for those 5 minutes. Do not add more commercials.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Last night on Colbert, Rowan Atkinson said he was approached to create a sitcom but thought he couldn't compete with FAWLTY TOWERS. So he decided to try a completely different century and came up with BLACKADDER. We also have history, maybe not as deep as Britain's but still -- have you ever considered a sitcom about, say, Gilded Age grifters? Grant's in the White House, his administration is outrageously corrupt, Wall Street is rife with manipulators, every ship brings ragged immigrants from Europe -- it's comedy gold.

Let's lunch.

Mike Doran said...

Network TV started to go wrong when the nets stopped playing the Long Game.
I can't nail down exactly when this happened; I think it might have been when the Big Three became "Three and a Half" with the emergence of FOX.
This skewed the math, so that getting at least a third of the mass audience became harder.
Once cable took root and boosted the number of alternatives, bulk numbers disappeared from the equation - except that the Nets still played by the old rules.
Today's nets are still looking for a "Big Breakout Hit", but that just isn't going to happen in the current economy.
The idea that a series could start slowly and gradually build over time has been totally forgotten; if you don't start out with a Grand Slam and stay at that impossible level, the Big 3 (or 4) just cut and run.
The cable nets and the streamers will give your show a window in which to make it, but the key here is time.
Many off-trail shows need the word-of-mouth to build up - and that often takes a while - and the Big Ones don't have "a while".
That's my theory, anyway - what's yours?

Tyler said...

We're in a world now where a family of 4 may be watching 4 different things at the same time, with maybe only 1 of the 4 being "live' television and none of them being on a traditional broadcast network.

It's hard to tell what truly qualifies as a "hit" anymore, as even many shows in the top 10 get viewer numbers that probably would have led to cancellation 30 years ago. I'll be curious to see what the viewer total for The Big Bang Theory's final episode will be compared to Friends, which was a lot lower than Seinfeld, which was a lot lower than Cheers.

DBenson said...

A Friday Question: I vaguely recall that early on, M*A*S*H would venture into a nearby town, but as time went on nobody seemed to leave the base except to go into the war zone or, occasionally, far back from the action at a headquarters. I can understand if it was strictly economics, but wonder if there were other factors in confining the characters to the base and battlefield.

Janet Ybarra said...

The Republicans haven't done nearly anything to moderate or ameliorate President Dump's worst behavior in nearly 2 years. Why would they start now? They more or less agree with him, even if some of them wouldn't say some of his most evil things out loud themselves.

The only thing to stop President Dump and the other Republicans is to vote for the other guys in a couple of weeks. That is really the only real productive option at the moment.

And if you live in a red state where Republicans are engaged in voter suppression (ie voter ID, purging voter rolls, exact match, etc), call (866) OUR-VOTE for help to make sure that your vote counts.

Breadbaker said...

I was just reading last night that the first series reruns of Yes, Minister (originally on BBC2 where it attracted 2.2 million viewers) were seen by 12 million Brits in about 1980. That's Britain, with about one sixth our population. Just for comparison's sake.

JAS said...

I'll be interested to see what the DVR numbers are in a few days because The Conners was up against the World Series. ABC was down across the board. The Roseanne revival dropped by about the same percentage from week 1 to 2 last spring. And even with the drop, it's still ABC's highest-rated comedy, for whatever that's worth.

I love how the network tried to spin the drop, though:

“The Conners” (8:00-8:30 p.m. – 7.9 million and 1.7/7 in AD18-49):
Against the start of the World Series on Fox at 8:00 p.m., ABC’s “The Conners” dominated its non-sports competition in the half-hour, beating runner-up NBC’s “The Voice” by 21% (1.7/7 vs. 1.4/6). In fact, “The Conners” was Tuesday’s No. 2 TV series with young adults, trailing only NBC’s top-rated “This Is Us.” The ABC freshman comedy drew an average audience of 7.9 million viewers against the opening of the Fall Classic. In L+3, last week’s debut climbed by +2.3 million viewers and +6-tenths in Adults 18-49 over L+SD.

“The Conners” continued to deliver impressive year-over-year time period improvement for ABC, spiking over the year-ago night telecast of “The Middle” in the half-hour (5.8 million and 1.3/5 on 10/24/17) by 2.1 million viewers and by 31% in Adults 18-49. In fact with “The Conners” leading off the night, ABC scored its best delivery in the slot over the last 5 years that the World Series has started on Tuesday night – since 2013.

I just love when they get super specific with their superlatives - "best delivery in the slot over the last 5 years that the World Series has started on a Tuesday."

Frederic Alden said...

I stopped watching TV when the commercials got so long I forgot what I was watching.

VP81955 said...

Speaking of Chuck Lorre, his series "Mom" has never been a huge hit in its five-plus seasons, but its audience is very loyal. I'm not sure it's ever gone "fractional" (under 1.0 for adults 18-49), and almost certainly will be renewed for a seventh season in 2019-2020.

PJ said...

@Janet Ybarra
I think we can already see what it looks like to not have primetime shows, at least to an extent. Where I work we meet with a different kid every day, various ages and SES, so we get a good sample of trends. Over the last year or so when I ask kids what they watch on TV I get a blank look more often than not. "TV? I don't watch tv. I watch videos on Netflix or youtube videos on my phone." Of course some of those videos are TV shows, but they don't seem to care.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Yeah, like how they said CRISTELA was such a "groundbreaking" series, then it lasted only one season.

Mike said...

Eric Holder: “When [Republicans] go low, we kick them.”

Maxine Waters: “And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

Will McEvoy on The Newsroom”: “We should call [Tea Party Conservatives] what they are: “The American Taliban”.

Salon Magazine: “Republicans aren’t a political party any more. They’re the American Taliban.”

Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson in February 2017: “Republicans are the Taliban of the USA”. Less than four months later, he took a gun to a Republican congressional baseball practice and shot five people.

MikeN said...

My kids don't watch network TV at all. I see no point in encouraging it.

We also have no Netflix or Amazon or anything else.
I don't think they are missing anything.

Joe said...

Janet, I think Republicans are going to be holding the House and Senate.

Senate is pretty much a lock, as Democrats would have to take at least one seat out of North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas(or Mississippi in a runoff after Election Day).
More likely Democrats will lost a bunch of seats in the Senate.

What looked like a wave a month ago is now looking like a ripple. Democrats keep pulling money from races that they were targeting. Out of what was before 60 seats has dropped to 30 or less.

Barry Traylor said...

I seem to find more laughs in a rerun of MASH or CHEERS than anything I have sampled lately. They all just leave me cold.

Janet Ybarra said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
YEKIMI said...

Shouldn't your headline read: So much for the NUMBER ONE SHIT COMEDY OF THE SEASON!

Coram_Loci said...

"[F]ind something that’s really different and FUNNY."

Roseanne, the show, was different. Every other comedy lampoons Trump the way Hawkeye Pierce lampooned Frank Burns. Roseanne offered us a Charles Winchester. Although Winchester didn't always win, he was competitive. To borrow from wrestling vernacular, what we have now are squash matches, cultural squash matches. Sure, I liked watching Randy Savage drop the big elbow on a jobber; it was satisfying... but ultimately hollow. Most satisfying is the feeling that the outcome of a rigged event is in doubt, that Randy might {gasp} lose.

Approximately 50% of the country is rooting for Trump, the heel. Yet 90% of comedy roots for him to lose. Parity is what would be different. Take advantage of the 50% rooting for the heel, take advantage of the drama and comedy created by their support and their opponent's opposition. Let the heel win sometimes.

Colbert, SNL, Daily Show, practically any comedy -- squash match. Don't need to watch to know the outcome. Not challenging. Not funny. Not must see TV.

Peter said...

Mike, I condemn all those comments too. They're unacceptable. But none of those people were the president and none of them have the unique platform that a president has.

Trump has completely debased political discourse and the office he holds. Obama was crucified by the right wing for wearing a tan suit. Imagine the reaction if he'd said just one of the things about an opponent that Trump has said. Hannity, O'Reilly and the rest would have called for his arrest.

When Trump takes the time out of his day to tweet an insult about De Niro, which is then seized upon by his followers who, unable to think for themselves, say things like they'll never watch another of his films again and hope he dies soon, when he calls CNN the enemy, when he accuses Obama of creating ISIS, and when he says he likes anyone who bodyslams reporters, the eventual result is what we saw this week.

But hey, let's not forget about the tan suit. That was a crime.

Orwell said...

I thought this blog was about TV and entertainment.

Why, it would be unseemly and unheard of to have political divisiveness come out of Hollywood.

cadavra said...

Joseph: CRISTELA was considered ground-breaking for its depiction of a Latino family that was definitely middle-class and not completely defined by its ethnicity. The cancellation came as a shock to everyone, as its ratings were well above the threshold for renewal, especially for a Friday night show. Clearly other factors were at work.