Anemic ratings force nets to cancel shows early

Patience is apparently overrated at the networks.

It’s turning into the bloodiest fall in years for the Big Four, and the carnage may be just starting. What sets this apart from past fall launches: The first two cancelled series, Fox’s “Lone Star” and ABC’s “My Generation,” were also two of the nets’ most promising and heavily promoted shows of the year.

“I think you can’t underestimate how truly competitive this environment is,” said “My Generation” exec producer Warren Littlefield. “The technology allowed us to really ignore network schedules and watch TV when we wanted to. We live in a world where the average home has over 100 choices. To break through and solidify your place is extremely difficult.”

Now comes the third week of the season, which one exec notes is often make-or-break time for new series.

“If you have a solid number in week three, then you’re in pretty good shape,” said one network scheduler. “But if you started big and faded, and then still fading in week three, that’s different.”

Now that measuring viewership has gotten more complicated (thanks to DVRs and online and on-demand viewing), this was the year that the networks figured to stick with middling players through at least the fall — to at least see if their shows were gaining buzz even if the same-night viewing estimates were modest.

But unfortunately for “Lone Star” and “My Generation,” there was nothing middling about their openings. Both were so roundly rejected by auds that Fox and ABC had no choice but to pull the plug now.

“You can’t be patient with a 1.1,” one exec said of “My Generation’s” adults 18-49 rating, which translates to fewer than 1.5 million viewers in the sought-after demographic.

The “Lone Star” cancellation may go down as one of the most analyzed in TV history. “My Generation” may not get as much attention — critics weren’t big fans the way they were with “Lone Star” — but some of the issues were the same: Marketing that didn’t adequately explain the show, a concept that may have been a tough sell and a rough timeslot.

“We knew we weren’t doing ‘Hawaii Five-0,’?” said Littlefield, referring to the easy sell of dusting off a familiar brand name. “I don’t think anybody realized how difficult it would be to go up against four established shows … I’m disappointed we couldn’t be there to build an audience, but I do have a memory of what it’s like and the pressures you face running a network, and the threshold number you have to deliver.”

ABC is still mulling its options for the Thursday 8 p.m. timeslot. Production has been halted immediately on “My Generation,” which shot eight episodes in Austin, Texas. ABC is trying to decide what to do with the remaining six segs, such as running them on ABC.com.

Writing was on the wall for “My Generation” when even ABC failed to mention the show in its press release for Thursday night’s ratings. In that same release, Alphabet referred to “Grey’s Anatomy” as a “self-starter” — a reference to the fact that it had no lead-in support whatsoever. (“Grey’s Anatomy” more than quadrupled its lead-in among adults 18-49, going from the lowest-rated Big Four hour of the night with a 1.1 rating at 8 o’clock to the No. 1 show of the night with a 4.6 rating at 9.)

ABC’s options for the Thursday 8 p.m. slot in the near future include drama repeats, something from ABC News or perhaps a reality show like “Secret Millionaire” (slated for Fridays beginning later this month). The Thursday 8 p.m. timeslot, long home to CBS’ “Survivor” before it shifted to Wednesday this fall, features no broadcast reality shows.

Meanwhile, ABC is giving “The Whole Truth” (which slid to a 1.2 rating last week) one more shot this upcoming Wednesday at 10 p.m. — but the net may want to make a change there soon as well. Among the options: “Primetime: What Would You Do?,” which has performed decently for the net, or perhaps Dana Delany crime show “Body of Proof,” which had been penciled in to bow Fridays at 9 p.m. later this month.

At the other nets, NBC is sticking with “The Apprentice” on Thursday at 10 p.m. for now (despite a sixth-place 1.3 rating in 18-49 last week), but that’s still subject to change; many predict the net will move it to Fridays soon. One year after the disaster that was “The Jay Leno Show,” NBC wants to give its local affiliates a good showing in the 10 o’clock hour, so it’s possible it could shuffle its “Law and Order” series to strengthen the timeslot; “Law and Order: Los Angeles” could shift to Thursdays at 10, with “Law and Order: SVU” airing an hour later on Wednesday.)

More immediately, NBC may also want to make a switch on Friday after the Jimmy Smits drama “Outlaw” posted another tiny number last week (prelim 1.0 rating in adults 18-49). And Fox also still has a Friday issue on its hands, as “The Good Guys” did a mere 0.7 rating last week.

CBS was looking good on the night with Tom Selleck drama “Blue Bloods,” which dipped 9% from its premiere to dominate the 10 p.m. hour (prelim 2.0/7 in 18-49, 11.2 million viewers overall).

(Rick Kissell contributed to this report.)

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