ABC Struggles with Low Ratings, High Drama Casualty Rate

Mind Games TV Show Review-ABC

After low ratings for its second airing, “Mind Games” could become the third Tuesday ABC drama to get a quick hook this season.

The network has done OK with “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” and has high hopes for “Resurrection,” which debuts this Sunday, but otherwise has struggled mightily with its high volume of new dramas this season. Even some shows that finished their runs, like “Betrayal” and “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,” have been ratings lightweights.

The drama failures have dragged down a net that still has pockets of bright spots like “Scandal” and “Shark Tank.” For the season, ABC is in fourth place in key demos as well as total viewers, down nearly 10% from last year.

Tuesday at 10 p.m. alone has seen lottery drama “Lucky 7” get the ax after two low-rated outings in the fall (including a 0.7 rating in adults 18-49 in its second week), and female Texas Ranger drama “Killer Women” exited earlier than planned after opening to a 0.9 and then falling to a 0.7 on a few occasions. The net wanted to wrap “Women” so that it could move up the premiere of “Mind Games” (pictured) by a few weeks — but auds seemed disinterested in the Christian Slater-Steve Zahn drama from the outset.

After bowing to a soft 1.1 demo rating last week (even with a strong lead-in from a special off-night episode of “The Bachelor”), “Mind Games” tumbled to a 0.6 on Tuesday night when low-rated frosh comedy “Trophy Wife” managed a mere 0.8 in the half-hour preceding it.

It’s worth remembering that ABC canceled “Body of Proof,” which aired Tuesdays at 10 last spring, even though it was averaging a 1.4 same-night rating in 18-49 (and nearly 9 million total viewers).

One of the reasons for the high failure rate with ABC dramas may be that it simply produces more dramas than any other network. Because it airs so many serialized skeins, ABC has opted to cut down on lengthy stretches of repeats by resting shows like “Scandal” and filling holes with new dramas — an exhausting routine and certainly a drain on promotional resources.

Some shows like “Killer Women” and “The Assets” (which replaced “Scandal” on Thursdays and was pulled after drawing anemic ratings in its two airings) were designed as “limited” series and produced under a lower-budget model to mitigate risk, but the net was clearly hoping to get more out of them. Another “limited” entry was Thursday’s “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,” which will have finished its episode order in April.

The Alphabet net is handicapped by being the only network that doesn’t benefit from NFL football as a promotional platform. CBS, NBC and Fox have effectively used the highly rated games, especially playoff contests that can draw 40 million viewers or more, to launch new series. ABC on the other hand, launched five shows in January alone — a month during which no telecast could draw as many as 10 million viewers.

It would help too if ABC had a hot reality show like “The Voice” or a mega-event like the Olympics, which NBC has used to funnel viewers into new shows like “Chicago Fire,” “The Blacklist” and “About a Boy.”

Contributing to ABC’s problems this season is that its ambitious reality show “The Quest” was pushed to summer. Cooking show “The Taste” was called up for duty to replace it but has struggled with low numbers. And though it hasn’t yet affected the net’s primetime performance, ABC’s series order for hot drama “Scandal” had to be trimmed by four episodes this season due to Kerry Washington’s pregnancy.

Of course, that means ABC has another newbie drama — “Black Box” — primed to come out of the chute one week after “Scandal” wraps in April.

Add it all up and it’s been a tough season of strike-outs for ABC. The Alphabet is hardly the only network to struggle with introducing new series during the 2013-14 campaign, but ABC has launched the most among the Big Four nets, with not much to show for it.

The net’s best hope for midseason figures to be back-from-the-dead fantasy drama “Resurrection,” which got plenty of promotion during the Oscars and has been garnering much better reviews than other ABC dramas.

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  1. Jim says:

    I stopped watching ABC years ago. They did not care if they lost my viewership. I am sure I am not the only one who turned ABC off and has never gone back.

  2. Emm Cee says:

    ABC continues to air late night hour long ‘soap opera dramas” with little substance and ‘fair’ acting at best. They often start out with decent character development and an intelligent ‘catch’ plots then quickly strip all that away to wallow in the he said-she said emotional drivel copied from 1 new show on to the next. This formula has continued for far too long and anyone with a room temperature IQ quickly looses interest as and ‘edge’ the show may have had tend to be quickly softened by sullen emotion and ‘tears’ for dramatic effect.

  3. Jewels says:

    Typical ABC behavior pulling a show that I like, a show that has potential, before it can find its audience. Its hard to believe this is the same station that at one time had the best programming around! MacGyver,Dynasty,Fall Guy and Moonlighting just to name a few. ABC needs to stop putting good shows in poor time slots and sub in trusty reruns,maybe special episode reruns that get us all nostalgic, then they need to put their powerhouse shows that pull in the viewers in prime slots to go up against the other stations. But more importantly they NEED to get football back! Also I agree with Searchin4FredSilverman when he posted on the fifth that they need a new head of reality programming. But quite honestly I think ABC needs to bring in some new talent in all aspects of their programming because the ones that are deciding all this cut and run before giving shows a chance to prove themselves are the ones keeping ABC at the bottom of the pile.

  4. beverly mclendon says:

    ABC that’s why I like watching the cable channels .they give their shows a chance. Just give the shows a Chance its nothing like getting hook on a show then finding its been cancel. At least on the cable you get to see more then one show.

  5. Robert S says:

    Agents of SHIELD has gotten quite good lately. It’s too bad they took off a month between new episodes. It’s like ABC was trying to hurt the ratings. Resurrection looks insultingly bad. I can’t imagine anyone that has felt the pain of losing a loved one wanting to watch that show. That’s not escapist entertainment, that’s just cruel.

  6. Ed Tantamount says:

    Quite obvious the problem is at the top.

  7. Searchin4FredSilverman says:

    ABC’s football handicap is its own fault. Notice that they got no love from the NFL when they wanted Thursday night football for the network. Disney owned ESPN is a joke of sports network now, doing little promotion and support of major sporting events in general. NBC, CBS, and even FOX have quickly developed rival cable outlets with sports programming options that challenge the tenuous superiority of ESPN, all while keeping the major sporting events; NFL Superbowl, NFC/AFC playoffs, Olympics, Masters(golf), and basketball’s March Madness, on broadcast tv networks NBC and CBS, with football going to FOX periodically.
    ABC would benefit tremendously from having Monday Night Football . They could move Dancing With The Stars and Castle over to Tuesday. Lead off Wednesday with DWTS: Elimination show feeding into Modern Family and The Middle and close out the night with a strong drama. This would leave them with a lot of solid programs to play with over the remainder of the season.
    And yes they need a solid head of reality programming as well. The last guy brought in so much garbage; celebrity diving(GEEZE), poorly orchestrated singing competition, Duets, and yet another poorly conceived cooking contest, The Taste, along with used up garbage, Secret Millionaire.


    In summation of your brilliant article, the problem lies with the head of programming. You clearly and concisely point out all of ABC’s problems. Financially, it doesn’t make any sense to keep ordering all of these same types of serialized dramas that have failed and re-failed over and over again at the network; silly soap operas with no hook and no purpose, and mindless fantasy programs that little to no one seems interested in viewing. It’s a drain of energy, time and focus that could be used to making the network run more efficiently as well as a financial drain to have to keep finding replacement product for all of these serialized failures. And make no mistake about it. Their dire situation is all of their own making. All of the holes in their programming are the result of them cancelling better shows to bring in garbage and nonsense.
    Multi-cam, Better With You, with a decent demo and a big audience, was removed to bring in failure, Suburgatory. Malibu Country, a network owned hit, was cancelled in favor of a network owned fiasco that almost cost the network its untouchable hold on the Friday night demo audience, and is the network’s only struggling Friday show. And Body of Proof, as you have mentioned was cancelled while hauling in over 9 million viewers/1.4 demo. Moreover, BOP was highly profitable for the network because of special deals associated with its location shooting. So, its cancellation was truly idiotic. Had it been left tied to Dancing With The Stars: Results Show, it would have been fine. Instead, the head of programming wanted viewers to watch filth, which they were not interested in watching, so he proceeded to line up DOA garbage, Happy Endings & The Bitch In Apt.23, just as he is still doing to this very day, killing/destroying Wednesdays, their one solid night of comedy.
    It’s all the fault of the head of programming because he buys the type of programs that create/leave holes in ABC’s schedule. As old as a lot of ABC’s are they have maintained and/or are growing. They can move The Bachelor, Last Man Standing, and Shark Tank anywhere and still enjoy solid ratings. LMS, moved away from solid Tuesday night numbers to Friday, got poor scheduling and no promotion in season2, and even changed actresses in the summer of season 3, and didn’t miss a beat ratings wise. That tells me an entertaining program that appeals to the masses can survive anything but the cancellation notice of a moron. It’s way past time that ABC cancelled its head of programming. Ask yourself why a big ratings hit like Dancing With The Stars: Results Show is not back in the 9pm slot anchoring the night for the network and feeding viewers to a solid 10pm procedural. They desperately need a 2.0 demo/ 12 million viewers type show on the night and he refuses to acknowledge that he’s completely incompetent and unable to deliver something better. And I question whether a head of programming of any other race or gender would be given the same latitude with failures as this loser has been given.

  9. cadavra says:

    Suggestion for ABC: Go to David E. Kelley, get down on your hands and knees, beg his forgiveness, give him 22 on-air and let him do whatever he wants.

  10. If abc network execs think to cancel a great show like “Mind Games” after only it’s second (or third or fourth) episode, they are simply useless bozos. For one thing, how about letting me watch it online without asking me what cable company I may or may not subscribe to? They want viewers but they don’t let viewers watch. Network tv execs have the foresight of a mole rat and the attention span of two year olds.

  11. Sam says:

    It makes zero sense to me why abc doesn’t try and save dancing with the stars by moving it to Tuesdays and away from the voice before it’s too late.

  12. JBP says:

    Curious that in all this ABC drama talk, no mention of the most (melo)dramatic of all: “Nashville”. Do all of these cancellations increase the likelihood “Nashville” survives for season 3? It is an odd beast. Flashes of originality and some fine musical moments. And thank goodness they didn’t kill Connie Britton in that car crash. But, usually a banal, tedious narrative.

  13. Tasha says:

    I always wonder why they don’t move their schedule around when launching a new drama. It would make more sense and instead they seem to cancel every new drama after 2-3 episodes (unless it has some sort of pull because hello….OUATiW got a bit boring but it lasted its entire run!). Sometimes your audience has other things to do (or doesn’t realize the show’s started yet) and a DVR or On Demand is their best friend. Heavens know I have a good 30 hours of stuff I’m slowly catching up to.

  14. Jesse Skeen says:

    Gee, low ratings for dramas couldn’t POSSIBLY have ANYTHING to do with the fact that dramas are the type of shows that are most ruined by the presence of the network logo always onscreen? I can’t take ANYTHING seriously with that always there- I remember trying to watch the NYPD Blue episode where Jimmy Smits died (right after ABC started using a bug) and with the logo there it made me think about Schoolhouse Rock! Why has this gone on so long, and WHAT have they possibly GAINED from it???

    The amount of commercial time has also gotten far out of control- there used to be no more than 10 minutes per hour, now it’s gotten to be about 18 and the breaks are so long you can hardly remember what happened when the last segment ended! I guarantee that the first network to drop the ridiculous bug nonsense and scale back commercial time will come out on top in the end!

  15. Bella says:

    Resurrection is a copycat of Sundance channels the Returned its about when the dead return and have no idea that they were dead and it is in French so they use subtitles it is very dark and amazing I don’t see how ABC can replicate this but we shall see.

  16. JED says:

    One word for a surefire, hit (modernized) reboot : Dynasty.

  17. Steve Ungrey says:

    It’s worth noting that ABC has had nothing but bad luck launching dramas, mainly because it has been too quick to cancel some quality product. Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money, Women’s Murder Club, October Road, Men in Trees… all canceled after short runs because the network had no faith in them. Yes, some of these shows would be on five or six seasons by now had they survived, but ABC was too quick to hook them. That strategy has, in part, come back to bite ABC in the rear now.

    • mary says:

      my thoughts exactly!!!! I loved Dirty Sexy Money, Men in Trees, and Women’s Murder Club. ABC has got to give the shows a decent run. and one show I loved this past season..and it had very low
      ratings…..Betrayal !! It finished the run…13 weeks. They had a great cast…..Stuart Townsend, Hannah Ware…and James Cromwell. It did not help that the show was up against Sunday night football. Wish abc had chosen a different night for the show.

  18. Mark Isenberg says:

    ABC has flunked as often as NBC in developing better dramas.Grey’s Anatomy is a joke compared to how it began and Scandal despite the Shonda Rhimes vibe is not much better. They could have told Mr. Bocchco of NYPD Blue to take a couple of years off and then bring us something different but ABC and Disney rarely give a producer enough time or leeway.Even the Neighbors wound up on Fridays before fading away and it was the best concept in years,there. Four sets of entertainment executives have made little progress at ABC since Blue or Boston Legal. Maybe,it does not matter anymore but once upon a time,ABC had Moonlighting then NYPD Blue and all it now has is Modern Family,Dancing and Cooking competition shows. Actually,ABC deserves all the bad ratings it achieves.

    • DEE says:


    • Bella says:

      I agree I tried to get behind Scandal because of all the hoopla but Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Mad Men and now The Bates Motel has made network tv series look like a bunch of fluff in comparison they need better writers to even try to compete w/ these amazing shows .

  19. Thomas says:

    Is ABC really trying to launch new shows? How many times are they going to trot out new dramas at 10PM on Tuesdays? maybe it’s the time slot? You have an hour of comedies and then “hey check out our new drama” with no lead in support. Sure, they don’t have football to help but they also do something no other network does. Pair their two biggest shows back to back instead of using them as launching pads. You can bet if CBS had Grey’s and Scandal they wouldn’t be airing back to back. One would be moved to help launch a new show. But who knows what goes on over at ABC. Same network year after year tries to put some sex/bar comedy after one of the few family shows on network tv – Modern Family.

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