With the often-telling month of November halfway gone, network executives are getting clearer pictures of which players in their lineups are ready for primetime, and which are headed to the bench for good.
The CW's The Beautiful Life got the booby prize for the first new show of the broadcast season to get the ax, but the nets have now begun to weed out the underperformers. ABC has canceled Hank and Eastwick. NBC has pulled Trauma and Southland, which was subsequently picked up by TNT.
And last week, Fox chucked Joss Whedon's Dollhouse on the scrap heap. Though the network has promised to air all 13 of the show's commissioned episodes, loyal Dollhouse fans aren't likely to go gently into that good night. “I'll still get hate mail and death threats,” says Preston Beckman, executive VP of strategic program planning at Fox.
As network executives look to midseason, several more shows are awaiting decisions on their fate, including NBC's long-running Law & Order; CBS' Cold Case, Numbers and Three Rivers; Fox's 'Til Death and Brothers; ABC's Ugly Betty and The Forgotten; and The CW's Melrose Place.
Midseason replacements awaiting the call include ABC's Romantically Challenged and Happy Town; NBC's 100 Questions and Parenthood; CBS' Miami Trauma, Flashpoint, Rules of Engagement and Undercover Boss; and The CW's Life Unexpected and Fly Girls.
At Fox, Friday is up in the air after the cancellation of Dollhouse and the dismal prospects of Brothers and 'Til Death. The network is mulling the fate of Lie to Me and has Human Target and Our Little Genius in waiting.
NBC is still being buffeted by its Jay Leno decision, with advertisers concerned about the ratings hit the network has taken. ABC has some of its own issues, but can happily put three of its four Wednesday-night comedies in the success column (The Middle, Modern Family and Cougar Town). The CW has launched a hit in Vampire Diaries. And while CBS has multiple aging dramas, it has created a juggernaut on Tuesday nights with NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles (repeats of which have already been sold to cable) and The Good Wife.
Kelly Kahl, executive VP of program planning and scheduling for CBS, points to the stability of the network's schedule in allowing a little more time for new shows to find their audience. CBS ordered five additional episodes of Accidentally on Purpose and the network has no plans to yank Three Rivers, according to Kahl.
“We were encouraged by the ratings [for Accidentally] over the last few weeks and wanted to give that show every chance,” he says. “If you have a fairly stable schedule, you can give shows that haven't really proven themselves one way or the other every chance to succeed.”
Fox has managed to climb out of its autumn doldrums with a solid fall schedule, including new hits Glee and The Cleveland Show, and a strong World Series featuring big-market teams from New York and Philadelphia.
“The real dog race is for second place,” says Brad Adgate, senior VP for research at Horizon Media. So far this season, Fox is leading with a 3.5 rating in the 18-49 demo, while ABC and CBS are each at a 2.8 and NBC has a 2.7 (7:45-11 p.m. through Nov. 8, 2009).
The ratings spread may narrow as Fox gets further from its World Series bump, but Beckman predicts a fourth-quarter win heading into the network's perennially dominant midseason.
“There have been other years where we've had good baseball [ratings] and we've been right there with the other guys, and then after baseball we drop back to third or fourth place,” he says. “I don't think that's going to happen this time.”