Despite Anticipation, Midseason Lacks Breakout Hits

Year-round scheduling falters, with renewals unlikely for most spring entries

Leading up to premiere week last fall, the overwhelming
sentiment from TV critics was that this year, having smartened
up to the idea of year-round scheduling, the networks had saved
their best potential breakout shows
for midseason. But you wouldn’t
know it from a look at the ratings.

Midseason series such as Awake,
Alcatraz and The River were highly
anticipated by critics, but just three
weeks out from the upfront, the prospects
of renewal for those series, as
well as the majority of the networks’
midseason shows, are dim.

ProgrammingChart.jpg“A lot of these midseason shows
are kind of coming and going without
even nicking the culture,” one
broadcast network president said

Notably, critical praise does not
equal ratings, but series like NBC’s
Smash and ABC’s GCB were held back
to benefit from the promotional muscle
of the Super Bowl and the Oscars,
respectively. While Smash’s 2.5 rating
in the key adults 18-49 demo was
enough to win a renewal, and GCB’s
2.0 average rating makes it a moderate
performer, especially given its 10
p.m. time period, neither is the bona fide breakout hit its respective networks
thought it could be.

Of the other top midseason contenders,
Touch seems a likely candidate
for renewal with its 2.6 rating
and Kiefer Sutherland pedigree, but
even it has fallen off substantially after a very strong preview in January.
And though Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 had a solid first two
weeks out of Modern Family, it must hold up over the next few weeks
to prove itself worthy of returning.

In fact, midseason’s top performer, the CBS comedy Rob, was a surprise
success and is not even assured a second season by the mostwatched
network, which did not include the Rob Schneider vehicle in
its large-scale renewal of 15 series last month.

A look at midseason’s rookie performances shows the importance of
lead-ins, especially at a time of year when viewing habits have largely
been established and marketing budgets have run thin in some cases.
Each of the top four midseason entries benefitted from the best launching
pad its network could offer—Rob (The Big Bang Theory), Apartment
(Modern Family), Touch (American
) and Smash (The Voice)—while
solidly reviewed shows like Missing
and Bent, without a highly rated leadin,
didn’t prove self-starters.

“It’s very hard to launch them kind
of in the middle of the schedule with
nothing to launch them off,” another
network executive said.

The best way to use midseason
will be top of mind when networks
set their schedules for the upfront.
After years of talking about it, most
seem to be truly committing to the
idea of a year-round schedule as cable
continues to tighten the competition.
This season has seen a trend
toward later debuts, with multiple
series from ABC, NBC and CBS
bowing in April, stretching midseason
premieres toward nearly the
end of the 2011-12 run.

“We’re seeing more and more
shows that are debuting relatively
late in the year,” says Brad Adgate,
senior VP of research at Horizon
Media. “When you’re trying to sit
there and say, ‘OK, what shows are
coming back?’ some of these shows
haven’t even aired yet.”

It’s a strategy that worked last
year for ABC’s Happy Endings, whose
renewal after middling ratings late in the season led to the comedy finding
both its audience and creative footing in its sophomore campaign. A
later premiere means, of course, fewer weeks of potential drop-off before
scheduling decisions are made, which could spell good news for series
like Apartment 23 and Scandal if they hold up. But for other slow-starting
midseason entries like Best Friends Forever and NYC 22, the ending, like
that for much of the midseason fare, is unlikely to be happy.

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