3-2011: The End is Near

(Originally from here).

You Were Attacked By A Bear?!

We are doomed.  That seems to be the latest source of Chuck fandom’s angst.  Our ratings are in decline and the creative force of TPTB is spent.  NBC has new owners, and surely they aren’t interested in renewing such a low rated show once again.  Our competition is the pilots now, since NBC has canceled everything else that stood between Chuck and cancellation, so the writing is on the wall, and you may as well enjoy the last 5 episodes of Chuck.

And season 3 is to blame.

Well, some yes, some no, and some maybe later.  After the jump.

Deja Vu Part Deux

Does This Seem Familiar To You?

I feel like we’ve been here before.

At the end of last season I was hearing a lot of the same buzz in the Chuck fandom.  Season 3 killed the ratings, and minus a miracle recovery we were done.  Three years on the bubble would come to an end as NBC surely would pass.  In fact we should be grateful we even got the gift of this season, because only at a network in free fall like NBC could a marginal show like Chuck be renewed.  It was just as well anyway, the lackluster season and decline in quality showed that the creative force behind Chuck was spent anyway.  It might have been better if we’d ended with season 2, but we could all hope for a good closing string of episodes and be thankful for what we got, ’cause this was the end.

But we came back.  In the end it made more sense for NBC to renew Chuck, even if you suppose they were right.  What’s changed this year?

Not much.

Bear with me for a bit of background on some of the things I’ve learned about the rating system over the last year.

Like many Chuck fans I’ve come to be an obsessive reader of TVBythenumbers, despite the fact that they just use our promiscuous following of the ratings for their gratification.  But despite their callous use of us, they do provide a service and a good first source for news and discussions about ratings.  One of those articles they linked to that was an eye-opener about The Calculus of Canceling Shows is still available.

Now if you follow TVBTN you know that they base their renew/cancel predictions on a certain old joke.  The gist of it, I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.  That is the main thing to keep in mind.  While technically Chuck does compete against Dancing With The Stars, House, and How I Met Your Mother, since they are on opposite Chuck and all draw from the same pool of viewers, when it comes to cancellation we’re just trying to outrun enough other NBC shows, like Outlaw, Undercovers and The Event, so  that by the time he’s nipping at our heels the bear is too gorged and sluggish to care.

Last year I was pretty confident Chuck would be renewed.  At the end of the season you had three one hour scripted dramas, Heroes, Mercy, and Trauma all canceled, plus the Jay Leno hole in the schedule.  NBC had 8 one hour slots to fill, and 19 pilots to do it with.  They weren’t in any position to cancel shows that could hold an audience.  If you’ve read the link above on how highly anticipated shows can quickly cost a network money you’ll understand the following.  For each one hour slot for the season the network almost always wants nearly two one hour shows or 3-4 half hour shows in production, especially for new shows.  For established shows this is less of a concern, but it’s still there.  For each show short of that someone is likely getting a full season order.  This is why so often shows start with a 13 episode order and are given a full season order some time in October or November.  The new shows have premiered, the second half of the season shows are well into production, and the ratings and executives are having their say.   NBC picked up 13 pilots and two reality shows to fill slots for two half hour comedies and 8 one-hour slots.  That’s 11.5 hours of programming to fill 9 hours of the schedule for the season.  Clearly they were counting on a full season order for some of their returning shows.  The half hour comedies to fill two empty slots were Friends With Benefits,  Outsourced, Perfect Couples, Love Bites and The Paul Reiser Show. Of those three have never aired an episode and two, Perfect Couples and Outsourced are looking at cancellation.  The new hour-long shows were Undercovers, The Event, Chase, Law & Order: Los Angeles, Outlaw, The Cape and Harry’s Law and two new reality shows, School Pride and America’s Next Great Restaurant. Of those five are effectively canceled with Law & Order: Los Angeles undergoing a major re-tooling.

This year NBC ordered 22 pilots.  Ten are hour-long and twelve are half hour.  Of last year’s disastrous NBC pilot season, Harry’s Law and possibly Law & Order: Los Angeles will survive. (Not sure about the reality shows.)  Once again NBC has at least 5 one hour slots and 2 half-hour slots to fill, assuming they want to keep the same general balance of slots and not add additional reality programs.  With so many half-hour pilots it looks as if they may intend to convert a few one hour slots to two half hour shows.  I don’t have all the info, I’m making a reasonable guess (I hope).  In a perfect world NBC would need 10 hour scripted shows and 4 half hour scripted shows, with possibly more half hour, each 3-4 replacing one hour-long show.  But we know it doesn’t work quite that way.  Law and Order SVU is going to get a full season no matter what.  All the reality shows are likely to stay.  NBC will not have 10 shows in production to fill 5 one hour slots.  But they will have to try to have at least 7 or 8.  They have 10 to choose from, and that nearly demands they give some of them, or someone else, full season pickups.  They have the luxury of passing on 2-3 pilots among the hour-long shows, or picking up an additional 3-4 half hour pilots for each additional hour pilot they pass on.  This is all before they could cancel Chuck, opening another one hour hole for an entire season.  The kicker?  Chuck costs NBC about half as much as anything that could fill its notoriously deadly time slot.  Let’s get some more perspective. (Click to enlarge)

Yes, Chuck’s ratings have dropped.  So has NBC overall.  Above I compare Chuck to other one hour scripted shows, and you see in the first half of the season Chuck stayed relatively stable as nearly everything else dropped to, or below its ratings.  In the second half or the season Chuck has dropped, as all of NBC has dropped with it.  At this point, Chuck’s last in demo rating, 1.5, is exactly the NBC weekly average.  On the bubble?  I suppose, if you consider ratings the only factor.  The fact is the NBC bear is stuffed.  He’s sleeping off a huge meal.  He’s dined on five new hour-long shows so far, with two more half-hour deserts likely and one more show (Law & Order: Los Angeles) that had to be pulled from the schedule and re-tooled still to re-enter the race.  There is a lot of schedule to fill from those pilots before they even consider something replacing a full season of Chuck.  In short, we still don’t have to be better than everyone else to survive.  We just have to be a better bet to make not lose money than either Law & Order: Los Angeles or the two worst pilots in production, at half their cost.

Am I saying Chuck is a lock?  Certainly not.  An uptick in the ratings can’t hurt.  Both Harry’s Law and Law & Order: Los Angeles dropping below Chuck’s ratings would help too, but even as is, I’m slightly more confident than last year.  I think all things considered it makes more sense and creates fewer problems for NBC to renew Chuck than to cancel it.  I say we get another season of Chuck.

As a final note on the ratings, you may notice that there is now a ratings page, thanks once again to Faith’s tireless efforts to conquer and dominate all of Chuck fandom keep the blog fresh and informative.  The banner alone is worth a click.

Now the question of what is the next season of Chuck about and have TPTB become creatively exhausted?  That I will address in another post.  Fair warning, the phrase Hero’s Journey just may be involved.