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Rating Analysis - State of ABC and FOX Comedies

Hey everyone.

Since we've finished looking at the dramas from all the 5 broadcast networks last week, I will now start looking at comedies (ABC and FOX today, CBS and NBC next week). Let's start with ABC. ABC currently airs 8 comedies, with one of them having already been cancelled, at a current average of 1.80. Here's a look at the tiers in which they fall (note: relative order within each tier is random):

Tier 1:
- Modern Family
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 118-120
Syndication: Yes
Production Company: Not ABC
Ratings Average: 3.60 (200%)
As disappointing as Modern Family's most recent airings have been in terms of year to year comparisons, there is no dimension in which the show is in any sort of danger. It certainly appears that the show has peaked but that is still pretty much irrelevant in terms of its survival odds. In fact, judging by ratings alone, there is probably no other show as safe as this one in the entire broadcast network, as this is the only show that is still able to stand at 200% of its comparable average. That's a huge accomplishment as it means it is pulling exactly double the ratings of the average comedy hours. Also, maybe it's worth mentioning that we are still talking about broadcast television #2 scripted show! I could go on and on about this one, but there really is nothing I could say differently. The show will 100% be back next year.

- The Middle
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 118-120
Syndication: Yes
Production Company: Not ABC
Ratings Average: 2.20 (120%)
The Middle is another ABC comedy that will certainly be back next year. This is a situation in which I believe it is not really relevant to look at the many factors besides ratings to believe that it will be renewed. A show in its 5th season pulling 120% of its comparable average is a certain bet for renewal regardless of how we look at it. Sometimes, I see some theories about moving The Middle to Fridays which I find profoundly disturbing. Why would struggling ABC move its second highest rated comedy to Fridays and what would it anchor Fridays with instead? I think The Middle is one of those that could easily remain in this timeslot up until it ends, which I don't expect to see happening anytime soon. In addition, I do believe that this is one of those shows that could see additional benefits from syndication later in the year/ next season, which would only make its renewal case stronger than it already is. Regardless of whether that happens or not, The Middle is certainly be renewed, no question about it!

- Last Man Standing
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 64-66 [1 Season Away from 88 Episodes]
Syndication: No
Production Company: Not ABC
Ratings Average: 1.60 (90%)
Last Man Standing is an odd one. I have the feeling that most people think it's a bubble show, but I have trouble explaining why would people think so. I thought about putting it in the second tier just because, but I couldn't rationally justify that. Let's go over the facts: the show is performing at 90% of its most recent comedy average (75% sans Friday Factor). That, alone, is a renewal level in almost any case. The show got renewed with an 85% ratings level in its first season and a 95% ratings level in its second season. I see no reason why a 90% wouldn't be enough for now. However, that's only half of the story. The show is one season away from syndication and it really feels like one of those shows that will likely do well enough in syndication to warrant a decent syndication deal (didn't it recently pull a 1.0 or close to it for a Friday repeat?). Even though it is not owned by ABC, I am sure its production company will bend over and reduce the licensee fee as much as it takes to ensure that a 4th season happens. And the current ratings level doesn't even suggest that they will need to reduce it by that much. If, for some unexplainable reason the negotiations were to fall apart, I am convinced the show would still survive and air on FOX (its production company), but that's a ridiculously remote possibility given the very decent 90% ratings level. Given the number of episodes and the ratings level, I really couldn't justify anything lower than a prediction of a certain renewal for Last Man Standing!

Tier 3:
- The Goldbergs
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 22-24(?)
Syndication: No
Production Company: Not ABC
Ratings Average: 1.60 (90%)
The Goldbergs is arguably ABC's most successful freshman comedy (as low as that bar may be) and I actually believe the show deserves more credit than it gets taking into account the ridiculously fierce competition it goes up against every week and the incompatible (albeit high rated) lead-in it has (as shown by the lack of significant fluctuations when it aired sans original lead-in). It currently sits at 90% of ABC's ratings level, which is a level that is usually enough to warrant renewal. Why do I have it on the bubble though? Well, basically, because it is a freshman show. As I've explained here, I believe networks are harsher with freshman shows than they are with established shows, for two reasons: 1) They are miles away from syndication and 2)They are, by far, the ones with the highest propensity to continue to fall. Because of this, I find it reasonable to judge freshman shows with a penalty, meaning that the 90% are in reality something closer to 80%, which would then be a bubble level, hence why the show is on Tier 3. Basically, it all comes down to its Spring ratings. If the show stabilizes at this 80%-90% level, then I am fairly confident that it will be renewed, especially considering it will probably be the first non Wednesday show since LMS to do so. But if it goes closer to the 70% level, then I am not confident in its renewal prospects, especially because it is not owned by ABC and ABC appears to use that as a primary factor when deciding the fate of its comedies (more on that later). If I had to make a guess right now, I would be inclined to say the show is more likely to be renewed than to be cancelled, but as I've said, it really comes down to its spring ratings, which is why The Goldbergs is a bubble show!

Tier 4:
- The Neighbors
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 44-46
Syndication: No
Production Company: ABC
Ratings Average: 1.10 (60%)
The Neighbors is a second season comedy currently performing at 60% of its comparable average (55% without Friday Factor). However, by describing the show like this, I believe I am leaving out what is the most relevant factor about the show: it is an ABC production. As I will explain in a second, it turns out that when it comes to ABC comedies this could be a very powerful argument that could lead to what would otherwise be seen as reach renewals. Regardless, the fact that the show is performing at 60% is still too low for me to be confident that the ABC owned thing could save it, which is why I am predicting the show to be cancelled!

- Trophy Wife
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 22-24
Syndication: No
Production Company: ABC
Ratings Average: 1.20 (65%)
This show is The Neighbors all over again. It is an ABC owned comedy, which is worth a lot, but it is performing at a ratings level that is just too low for that to be enough, most likely. I would say that the 65% ratings level at which it is performing put it exactly in the same boat (or a hair worse) than The Neighbors, considering that this one is a freshman, hence being given less leeway with its ratings (see my explanation for The Goldbergs). Unfortunately, that is not a good boat to be on, since it means the show is still likely to be cancelled - that 65% for a freshman show is just too low!

Let's now address this argument I am making of ABC owned comedies having a huge advantage on the renewal race. Never have I seen a network being so biased in its renewals as I've seen ABC with its comedies. I believe the best way to illustrate this is to take a trip down memory lane and look at what ABC has been doing recently:
  • 2010/2011: Happy Endings (65%) vs. Better with You (70%) vs. Mr. Sunshine (60%): Happy Endings, the only ABC owned comedy of the three won the battle
  • 2012/2013: The Neighbors (80%) vs. How to Live with Your Parents (105%!!!!): The Neighbors, the ABC owned comedy won the battle against the far higher rated How to Live (Disclaimer: How to Live is by far the strangest cancellation I've came across in the 4 hours of data I've compiled, so I don't think it is entirely accurate to say it was 100% due to the ABC owned factor here, although I am sure it played a role in there too)
  • 2013/2013: Back in the Game (90%) vs. Trophy Wife (65% ): Trophy Wife, the only ABC owned comedy, got the back order despite being far lower rated than Back in the Game.
As you can see, there is clear a history here. The question is where is the limit for this or, in another words, how much is this advantage worth it. By my estimates, it should be worth something like 10-15% and yes, it does appear to have very clear limits:
  • 2011/2012: Man Up! was cancelled at 55% of ratings level
  • 2011/2013: Cougar Town was moved to TBS at 55% of ratings level (I don't particularly like to use this example though because I don't find evidence that the show would have been cancelled on ABC had it not been moved, but here it is anyway)
  • 2012/2013: Happy Endings was cancelled at 55% of ratings level
So, that 55% appears to be a level below which no comedy, even if produced in the house, will be renewed. That's pretty much the level at which The Neighbors and Trophy Wife are, given or take (particularly considering that Trophy Wife is a freshman show). That is why I am still leaning towards cancellation, hence placing them on the forth tier. However, as long as ratings don't fall to something like 40%, you will not see a movement to Tier 5 from me even if every single industry website does just that, because I think the bias for ABC owned comedies is just too strong. If one of these comedies inches up a bit come spring (in relative terms, I mean, which could simply imply not falling while everything else does), I could see ABC renewing it! For now though, that remains something to which I still have no evidence of, so I have to predict both to be cancelled, regardless of how many caveats that prediction has!

Tier 5:
- Super Fun Night
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 18
Syndication: No
Production Company: ABC
Ratings Average: 1.80 (100%)
Super Fun Night is one of those rare instances in which ratings alone don't explain why I predict it to be cancelled. While I mock the retentionistas theories per se, I do think there is some merit to the notion that when it comes to bottom of the hour comedies (as in, comedies airing at .30h), there will be some judgment based on how the lead-in did. Now, I do not think that this was exactly what got Super Fun Night. Happy Endings (85%), Apartment 23 (90%), Cougar Town (90%) and Suburgatory (95%) all got renewed doing worse than Super Fun Night is doing! However, the difference is that all those shows were able to hold better when airing out of repeats. The 1.7 that Super Fun Night pulled out of its first airing after a repeat was comparable to what The Goldbergs was doing by itself on Tuesdays. It was higher rated than Trophy Wife's low 1s, but Trophy Wife is owned by ABC and Super Fun Night isn't. So, Trophy Wife and The Goldbergs got back orders and Super Fun Night got only a bridge extension. To be honest, I would have placed this show in Tier 4 had it gotten a full season renewal. The fact that it got a bridge extension means that ABC has pretty much given back on it and that chances of it returning next season after finishing so early are practically none. Everything else on the comedy front would have to collapse massively for them to need this show and even then, I think they would just cut back comedy hours instead of bringing it back. Because of the poor ratings when aired on a non Modern Family context, because it is not owned by ABC, because it is a freshman show and because it got only a bridge extension, I say Super Fun Night is a certain cancellation!

Let's now talk about FOX. NBC currently has 5 comedies airing, averaging about a 1.40 in most recent airings [Note: I exclude cartoons from all my analysis/ calculations/ numbers]. Here's a look at the tiers in which they fall (as always, the order within each tier is random):

Tier 1:
- New Girl
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 71-74
Syndication: No
Production Company: FOX
Ratings Average: 1.80 (130%)
New Girl is another one of those dead certain renewals in which there is little I can say. Although the show appears to haven't been able to its initial promise in which was pulling monstrous ratings, it is still FOX's most relevant comedy and one of its most relevant overall players (it is pulling 115% of FOX's scripted airings in general, both dramas and comedies excluding cartoons). This would be more than enough for its renewal but it also has two other powerhouse arguments: 1)The show is still a monster in revenues as it pulls a ridiculous amount of 18-34 demo and advertisers love it for that, paying a high premium for adds aired during its breaks. 2) The show is one season away from the magic syndication number of 88 episodes. All these amount to absolutely no chance of the show not coming back next year!

Tier 2
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season:22-24
Syndication: No
Production Company: Not FOX
Ratings Average: 1.50 (105%)
I realize many people will not agree with my decision of placing Brooklyn Nine-Nine in this tier, but I feel reasonably confident that the show will indeed be back. I do accept the notion that there is a case to be made for it to be bubble but I think the pros outweigh the cons here. Let's look at them: 1) The show is performing at a very decent ratings level, being 105% of FOX's comedy average and 95% of its overall scripted average (comedies and dramas excluding cartoons). That's usually enough for renewal, even considering the fact that it is a freshman show. 2) FOX is clearly invested in the show and has given it a post Super Bowl slot and then a permanent post New Girl slot. I have an extremely hard time imagining that the show isn't at least able to hold to the current ~100% ratings level where is at and I could easily see it improving even. 3) This is the reverse of the Super Fun Night retention argument. As I've explained there, I believe that if there is an instance of retention mattering it is when it comes to bottom of the hour comedies. And that means it goes both ways and that, as such, bottom of the hour comedies that are able to consistently outperform its lead-in (even by a very small margin) should be valued for that. I believe that had the arrangement been B99-Dads and had B99 outperformed Dads by 0.1-0.2 every week that would mean less than it does the fact that it is Dads-B99 and that B99 outperforms Dads very week. Because of these three arguments, I am saying Brooklyn Nine-Nine is likely to be renewed, even if I accept that there is a possibility things change drastically and FOX does away with it (I just find that possibility very unlikely!)

Tier 3
- The Mindy Project
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 46-48
Syndication: No
Production Company: Not FOX
Ratings Average: 1.30 (95%)
The Mindy Project is one of the hardest calls to make this year in terms of prognostics. On the one hand, the show is doing very unimpressive numbers, but on the other hand, we have to acknowledge that those numbers are probably the new normal for FOX. The show is, after all doing 95% of FOX's comedy average and 80% of its overall scripted average (comedies and dramas, excluding cartoons). Regardless, because FOX has so little real estate available to scripted programming (excluding cartoons, it currently airs only 7 hours of scripted programming per week), I often feel the use of relative ratings, although still the most important one, is somehow limited, as the replacement of the 2 biggest flop hours with 2 new big hits would have a huge impact on the overall average. That is why I think looking at the 95% for Mindy is misleading (and before you say so, yes, the same argument could easily be applied to B99, but the fact still stands the B99 is the second highest rated comedy on the channel excluding cartoons) and why we need to look at other things. What other things? 1) The number itself is quite low, as I've said!, 2)The show is famous for doing excellently with 18-34s hence being a huge advertisers draw but from what I have been seeing lately (and I admit I don't monitor this as regularly as I would like), this effect has been dissipated this season and the show is not the 18-34s champ that it was last year, although it is still respectable there. As you can see, there are arguments that can go both ways so I really do not know what to think here. I think FOX can easily keep 2 comedy hours and greenlight 2 new comedies to air alongside B99 and New Girl, but I wouldn't also be shocked to see a Mindy renewal sparkle, either for Fridays or for midseason. Right now, if I had to make a call, I would say that the extended winter hiatus it will have will mean that it comes back to an even lower ratings level that effectively gets it killed but that is just a guess. As far as facts go, The Mindy Project is a bubble show!

Tier 4:
- Dads
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 19
Production Company: Fox
Ratings Average: 1.30 (95%)
Dads is a perfect example of why Fox's relative ratings are misleading. On a first look, 95% would be a renewal. However, the show is performing a just 80% of the overall scripted average of the network (excluding cartoons) and it is a freshman show (which means this is more like 70%). That is a low end bubble territory to be in almost any circumstance, but I think it's actually cancellation territory on limited real estate FOX. Add to that the fact that the show recently had its order cut (effectively making its full season order a bridge order as in the case of Super Fun Night) and it looks even worse. Could the show be saved? If it doesn't fall any further and if the cartoons development state is terrible, I don't think it is impossible that we find some arrangement in which the show is part of the Sunday lineup. I am still not ready to bet on the odds of that happening though, so I still think the ratings will speak higher here and that the show is likely to be cancelled.

Tier 5:
- Raising Hope
Number of Episodes at the End of the Season: 88-90
Syndication: Yes (at the end of the season)
Production Company: FOX
Ratings Average: 1.10 (65%)
Not much I can say here. The show already has enough episodes for syndication and is currently performing at 65% of Fox's comedy average and 55% of FOX's overall average and that's after we've established how fallible relative ratings are here. I can't think of any scenario in which FOX needs the show to come back for a 5th season, even though the 100 episodes would be positive for syndication. The fact is that the ratings level is just too low for that to be a feasible possibility which is why I predict the show to be cancelled come May!

So, to sum it up, here is how predictions stand:
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – To be renewed
Dads– To be cancelled
Last Man Standing – To be renewed
Modern Family – To be renewed
New Girl – To be renewed
The Goldbergs – To be determined
The Middle – To be renewed
The Mindy Project – To be determined
The Neighbors– To be cancelled
Raising Hope– To be cancelled
Super Fun Night– To be cancelled
Trophy Wife– To be cancelled

Thanks for reading!

Tracking Table

Previous Articles:
State of FOX and NBC Dramas
State of CW Dramas
State of CBS Dramas
State of ABC Dramas
ABC Sundays
Renewals and Cancellations Decisions and TV Numbers 101 [FAQ]