Just after the fall television season started, we begin agonizing over the fates some of our favorite shows. Considering that at one time NBC's Heroes garnered more than 16 million viewers, the CW's Smallville more than 8 million, and Fox's Fringe more than 13 million, this year's numbers were startling and terrible, not to mention being at an all-time low!
What happened? Could all our sci-fi shows end up canceled like Fox's Dollhouse? How can we have so many of our shows be in trouble and on the bubble? What about the DVR ratings? Sure, we've got ABC's V and FlashForward to carry on, but Lost is in its last season. Could this be the end of sci-fi as we know it on network TV?
According to TVbytheNumbers.com and other media ratings analysts, things might not be as grim as they appear at first glance. In fact, according to that site, Smallville and V are looking likely to get picked up, while Fringe, Heroes and FlashForward are on the bubble, with FlashForward in the most danger right now.
Here's how it all shakes out for your favorite shows up to this point:
Our shows do great in DVR and other time-shift ratings (meaning viewers watch the show after its original air time in some way). According to TVbytheNumber's Bill Gorman, "In the last full week before Thanksgiving, Fringe (43%), Smallville (40%) and The Office (34%) posted the largest % ratings increases in Live+ 7 day DVR viewing from their Live+Same Day adults 18-49 ratings (November 16-22)." Heroes, V and FlashForward also added 30% or more to their numbers.
Heroes: On Dec. 2, E!'s Kristin Dos Santos had all but written off Heroes' future when "a well-placed source" told her, "Everyone is expecting this to be the last season. The cast, the crew, everyone." However, on Monday, Dec. 7, she wrote, "So you're saying there's a chance it might stick around?! That's the latest word coming out of camp Heroes, now that NBC has recast Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes' Mohinder) in the net's own pilot Rex Is Not Your Lawyer, giving the role to Jerry O'Connell instead. An NBC rep said Ramamurthy pulled out of Rex because of a scheduling conflict with Heroes, which was in first position." (First position means he couldn't accept another role if Heroes got picked up.)
Considering NBC's poor ratings for Jay Leno, if the network decides (as many have speculated) to cancel the series, they're going to need scripted and reality fare to fill up the five hours a week Leno is now on. And, sad as the ratings are, with fewer than 6 million viewers watching most Mondays, Heroes is their second-best-performing drama, after Law & Order: SVU. It's still a bubble show, but there is hope.
Coming up: Chuck, Day One
V: HitFix's Daniel Fienberg commented, "After two straight weeks of falling ratings after its blockbuster premiere, ABC's V stabilized on Tuesday night, joining the Dancing with the Stars finale to give the network a win in the 18-49 demographic."
MediaWeek's Marc Berman added: "On ABC was V at a consistent 9.20 million viewers (#2) and a third-place 3.1/ 9 among adults 18-49 at 8 p.m. Four episodes into its run and V is going on hiatus until it returns later in the season in a miniseries format. Bad programming move, ABC!"
Both V and FlashForward will be off the air until spring, and both had their episode order cut by one episode. While ratings were going up for V and down for FlashForward, it doesn't mean much. What's going to count for ABC is what the ratings are when they return come spring.
Cliqueclack's Brett Love wrote, "ABC has now announced that FlashForward will be taking a little break, with new episodes returning March 4th. And that really couldn't have come at a worse time. Television is not usually a place where absence makes the heart grow fonder. More likely, viewers forget what you were up to and can't be bothered to return. If that wasn't bad enough, the show took its fall bow with its worst performance yet."
Gorman added, "FlashForward ended its fall run on a down note, scoring just a 2.1 rating for adults 18-49. Short of a miraculous reversal in its ratings trend when it returns in March, it's not coming back next fall."
Already canceled: Eastwick (however, the network ordered additional episodes after the cancellation)
And: Better Off Ted just started its second season, while Lost premieres its sixth and final season Feb. 2.
Likely to be renewed: Medium, Ghost Whisperer
Smallville: It certainly looked like the end when the CW moved Smallville to Fridays AND it dropped about half its viewers. Note to fans... Ratings on Friday nights suck. TVbytheNumber's Gorman commented, "For most broadcast shows, exile to Friday means your network thinks the show is past its time and should peacefully fade away without damaging the ratings of shows on Sunday-Thursday. That's likely the idea that the CW had when it put Smallville on Fridays this season. But defying conventional wisdom (and to many fans, the wishes of CW chief Dawn Ostroff), not only has Smallville refused to go quietly, it was tied for second best adults 18-49 rating on the CW last week. I know that the CW targets women 18-34, but be certain they sell advertising based on whatever attractive demo ratings they get. Those results cannot be ignored."
Likely to be renewed: The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural
Fringe: Regarding last Thursday's episode, TV Guide's Adam Bryant wrote, "Fringe pulled in its highest ratings since the season premiere, according to early Nielsen estimates... The supernatural Fox procedural pulled in 6.9 million viewers and climbed in the adults 18-to-49-demo."
TV Overmind's Jon Lachonis added, "Good news for Fringe fans. If you are worried about how FOX might feel about Fringe's waning ratings, turn your frown upside down. FOX celebrated its seventh straight week as a winner (by FOX math), and had no qualms about parading Fringe as part of its lineup of ratings winners. It's not surprising to see FOX celebrating Fringe's performance though, as last week's episode matched the Fringe season 2 premiere numbers—a feat any show would be hard pressed to pull off ... If Fringe can hold onto those numbers—or even improve on them—the prospects for a third season are better than ever. Considering the fact that the Fringe episode that aired last week, titled 'Snakehead', was one of the best of the season, you'd have to think that hopes are running high."
Already canceled: Dollhouse (with half the season remaining to air)
And: Human Target and Past Life are headed our way for mid-season.
What do you think about the ratings game? Will your favorite show survive?