Last year, in the absence of any breakout fall hits, networks sang the praises of growing sophomore shows such as Glee, NCIS: L.A. and especially Modern Family, which surged early in its second season. This fall, the focus has been on the freshmen, as such success stories as New Girl and 2 Broke Girls have highlighted the heralded resurgence of comedy.
Overlooked in the good news coming out of this fall’s crop, however, is that smart scheduling and a bit of luck have helped generate big gains for some sophomores, though others have eroded against stiffer competition.
No second-year series has improved more than ABC’s Happy Endings, though that growth is partly due to the on-the-bubble ratings it posted in its freshman run last spring. The ensemble sitcom’s renewal came as somewhat of a surprise given that its ratings were lower than those of fellow rookie comedies Better With You and Mr. Sunshine, which were both cancelled.
“We think it has huge potential,” Paul Lee, ABC entertainment group president, said of Happy Endings at the network’s upfront presentation in May.
Part of that potential was likely seen in Happy Endings’ upscale skew. In its freshman season, the show had an index of 120, meaning it rated 20% higher in households earning $100,000-plus in annual income. Shifting up a half-hour this fall to air out of megahit Modern Family has certainly benefited the series, which has improved a whopping 67% in the adults 18-49 demo. Its index is also up to 151, behind only Modern Family on ABC.
A bolstered lead-in has also benefi ted CBS sophomore Mike & Molly, which returned to a series high this fall driven by renewed interest in the Ashton Kutcherled Two and a Half Men. But there are more factors than the comedy resurgence blowing in Mike & Molly’s favor this season, not least of which is the growing popularity of series star Melissa McCarthy, thanks to the summer blockbuster Bridesmaids, her raved-about turn hosting Saturday Night Live and her recent Emmy win.
“If you want to see a show that may have a really good sophomore season, that’s what I would look for, driven by [McCarthy], with all this recognition that she’s gotten,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media.
CBS’ Monday comedy lineup improving as a whole has also spurred Hawaii Five-0 in its second year. Though the show is down from its big open last fall, it is tracking better than its first-season average.
“Having more people from 8-10 [p.m.] certainly doesn’t hurt it, but I also think this is a show that’s starting to find its stride; it got better as the year went on,” said Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP, CBS primetime.
Fox’s Raising Hope is another spoil of smart scheduling, though its benefactor is surprisingly a rookie, the breakout NewGirl. The Greg Garcia comedy was only a modest ratings draw in its first year, but the success of New Girl, which is building on Glee, is driving viewers to Raising Hope, up about 25% in the demo from its season-one average.
The result is a much more stable 9 p.m. hour for Fox, with New Girl proving a more compatible show to the Glee audience while Raising Hope has given the network a much better lead-in to its affiliates’ local news than the failed Running Wilde did last fall, Preston Beckman, executive VP, strategic program planning and research at Fox, said during premiere week.
But while scheduling has paid off for many sophomores, it has hurt others, most notably Harry’s Law, which was a midseason bright spot for NBC and the lone scripted rookie renewed by the network last season.
Law’s move from Mondays at 10 p.m. to Wednesdays at 9, where it has had to go up against the Modern Family behemoth and flashy new X Factor, has done a number on its ratings, which have sunk to an average 1.2 in adults 18-49. Likewise, creative changes to make the David E. Kelley series less quirky and play more like a traditional legal show have not paid off in added viewers.
ABC’s Body of Proof has shown some early vulnerability from stiffer competition on CBS and a weaker Dancing With the Stars lead-in; Proof is down about 15%, although it is improving the 10 p.m. time period from last year’s soft Detroit 1-8-7. The CW’s Nikita has also seen expected audience erosion in its move from Thursday to the lesser-watched Friday in its second year, though the drop was not nearly as precipitous as it could have been considering it aired out of the net’s top-rated Vampire Diaries last season.
Fellow Friday series Blue Bloods has actually grown slightly on the night in its second season on CBS. The show is up about 10% over its freshman average, a sign of the better chemistry and plot lines that one always hopes come with time.
“It’s a big deal to get to a sophomore year on a show these days,” Kahl said. “Any time a sophomore year show comes back even close or above where it was its freshman year, you’re really seeing a show that’s starting to hit its stride.”
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