After a week off, I'm back with another Ratings Five-Spot! You'd think November would be a really exciting time for TV ratings since everything is all new for most of the month, but with few premieres and almost everything "settled in" at predictable ratings, it's actually not that interesting. I couldn't come up with much of anything for last week, and this week I'm just going to look back at some general trends of this November sweep. If you follow my blog, you know that during the sweeps periods (when almost all shows are airing new episodes) I like to take a look at how each show is doing compared to last year. This is a good way to gauge the general "healthiness" of both shows and networks. Here are some of my findings from November:
- Comedy's Year - In case you haven't heard, it's the "year of the comedy." We're in a TV environment where almost all shows are constantly losing Nielsen audience from year to year, but this year has seen a huge wave of comedies on a simultaneous upswing. Almost all comedies on ABC and CBS are either up from last year's airings or improving on whatever aired in the same timeslot last year. The two biggest scripted shows on TV have been Two and a Half Men and Modern Family, but those growths have big causes you can point to; Men had the Charlie Sheen/Ashton Kutcher transition, and Modern Family is riding its total domination at the Emmy Awards.
- I just wanted to point out that How I Met Your Mother is also having by far its strongest ratings season yet despite no obvious explanation. In fact, it's come even though much of the Internet buzz suggests the show's creatively best days are long past. I think most people credit the Two and a Half Men upswing for helping the whole night, but we're at a point now where HIMYM is consistently up more year-to-year than even Men itself. This show is now clearly doing something great in its own right.
- ABC's Newbies - A big part of a network's "health" is the performance of the new product they're putting in play. This fall, the winner in that department is ABC. Though many of their returning shows are way down, they have multiple new shows making huge strides on what ABC had in their timeslots last year. Their one big hit is the new drama Once Upon a Time, and it's been more than 80% ahead of last year's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in the Sunday 8:00 timeslot. Last week, they had two other shows up more than 60% in their timeslots - Last Man Standing and Revenge. And a fourth new show, Suburgatory, has been trending more than 20% ahead of last year's newbie Better with You.
- Why does this matter outside of just patting those shows on the back? It means they have fewer timeslots available at midseason for their long list of shows on the shelf. Perhaps that success has contributed in part to the cutting of Cougar Town's episode order (from 22 to 15) and to Pan Am getting just 14 episodes while last year's similarly-rated Detroit 1-8-7 got 18. It's a nice problem to have from the network's standpoint, but some shows have to be a victim of their network's success.
- Fox's Dramas - One thing I've noticed but that nobody really seems to be talking about is the plight of the Fox drama. Last week, Glee, House and Fringe were among the top five largest show decliners. All were down well over 30%. House may be back next year, and Glee almost certainly will return. But these declines should continue, and these shows' days as tentpoles should be over by then (if they're not already). Couple those with a disappointing and expensive Terra Nova, and they just don't have much going on. Their only decent news is Bones, about even with last year, but even that owes some credit to its good X Factor lead-in. These drama struggles may reduce the ratings pressure on upcoming newbies like The Finder, Touch and Alcatraz.
- NBC's Comedies - The one big exception to the "year of the comedy" trend has got to be NBC's sagging Thursday lineup, and it starts with the show that's held it all together for years. The Office has been down more than 20% on average when comparing this year's November sweep with last year's. It's clear the loss of Steve Carell has not been weathered as easily as it might have appeared in the high-rated stunt episodes immediately following his departure. But the even grimmer reality for NBC is that, even with those drops, they still don't have any other scripted shows doing anything near Office numbers. Community, which NBC "benched" to great outcry last week, is also down about 20% from last year, perhaps suffering from The Big Bang Theory's upswing in the same timeslot. And the new shows don't offer much promise either, with Up All Night and Whitney struggling to even pull 2.0 demos. At midseason, NBC will move Up All Night to the easier post-Office timeslot and try to build it into something. For their sake, let's hope it happens.
- Friday's Exiles - I'm not exactly breaking any news here, but the shows taking the biggest declines from last year are almost all shows that got moved to Friday. Nobody's made the transition in the admirable way Supernatural did last year. Fringe, Chuck, Nikita and even reality like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition frequently rank among the shows down the most from their year-ago ratings. It's always tricky figuring out how much of an "adjustment" a network makes for Friday ratings. My educated guesses? I'd say Nikita (down 30%+ throughout this sweep) has at least some chance to survive at its borderline level. Fringe is most likely done after this season, and there will definitely be no reprieve for Chuck.