ABC Struggles with Low Ratings, High Drama Casualty Rate

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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