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DVR Ratings Helping Struggling New TV Shows Stay Afloat

ABC is a turnaround story in the making. CBS went four-for-four with pickups for its new fall series. Fox is giving thanks for “Gotham.” And NBC is enjoying its bench strength with dramas, even if comedy remains a harder nut to crack.

Overall, the broadcast nets have gotten off to a good start this season, with a few frosh series, notably ABC’s “Black-ish” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” and CBS’ “Scorpion,” standing out from the pack. ABC likes “Black-ish” so much that last week it tacked on two more episodes, lifting its order to 24. The Alphabet also handed out additional episodes for comedy “The Goldbergs” and six other shows.

In something of a fall rarity, almost all of the new series survived their first month — a far cry from last year, when CBS’ “We Are Men,” ABC’s “Lucky 7” and NBC’s “Ironside” all had fallen with the leaves.

It could be that the same-night ratings bar has lowered enough to make the difference between a dud and a worthwhile performer insignificant. Or the improved survival rate could be a function of the networks waiting for more time-shifting data before making any decisions. Then again, ripping up the schedule and trying to market new shows might be simply too expensive and disruptive.

Or perhaps it’s all of the above.

ABC’s “Selfie,” NBC’s “A to Z” and Fox’s “Red Band Society” and “Mulaney” have all produced Nielsen numbers as low as some of last year’s quickly departed, but they may have enough going for them to last longer than expected.

Fox’s ultra-ambitious reality series “Utopia” is likely to be the season’s next casualty, after ABC pulled the plug on “Manhattan Love Story” on Oct. 24. It’s doubtful that the little-watched “Utopia” will stay on Fox’s air past November.

“Mulaney” hasn’t done much better, but it does have exec producer Lorne Michaels going for it, plus there is inhouse good will for star John Mulaney and his efforts to right the ship. Meanwhile, “Red Band Society” is a good illustration of how delayed viewing is making it much harder to call hits and misses.

In an attempt to provide the media with a better overall picture of the television audience for their shows, ABC, CBS and NBC this fall joined Fox in including Live+7 projections in their next-day ratings analysis. These estimates can sometimes be off by as much as 20% or more — but they are likely here to stay.

While a week’s worth of DVR playback can make a good performer look great, it can’t miraculously do much for a show that draws a tiny same-night rating and doesn’t have much buzz.

“Manhattan Love Story,” for example, bowed Sept. 30 to a low 1.3 rating in adults 18-49, and also proved to be the smallest Live+7 gainer among the week’s scripted shows (rising a mere 0.2). It fell to a 0.7 same-night rating in its most recent outing, and got the axe even after ABC had ordered more scripts of the show.

“Red Band,” on the other hand, did a 1.1 same-night rating that week (its third episode), but shot up to a 1.9 in L+7 — an indication that while it may not be a show viewers choose to watch on Wednesdays vs. “Modern Family” or “Criminal Minds,” it remains on the radar of a sizable group of young adults who have made a point to keep up with it at their convenience.

This explains in part why Fox ordered four more scripts for “Red Band.” Of course, the fact it hails from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin TV and ABC Studios doesn’t hurt — as Fox wants to demonstrate its openness to product from outside studio suppliers following the streamlining of leadership at the network and at the 20th Century Fox TV production division.

Fox gave a full-season nod to Warner Bros. TV’s “Gotham” on the heels of the show’s big opening. ABC made a statement with its early pickups of “Black-ish” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” NBC has extended “The Mysteries of Laura”  and CW did the same with “The Flash,” which sprinted out of the gate; its “Jane the Virgin” got by on good looks and glowing reviews.

The premieres of both “Gotham” and “Murder” gained more than 2 full demo ratings points in L+7. “Murder” set a U.S. television record, when nearly 7 million viewers watched it in the seven days following its premiere.

Also looking pretty good (and performing consistently) are CBS’ “Madam Secretary” and NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura,” older-skewing shows that nonetheless have performed solidly enough in adults 25-54 to earn full-season pickups. And ABC’s “Forever” and “Cristela” have hung in there, with the former giving the net a Tuesday-at-10 pulse.

In addition to “Scorpion” and “Madam Secretary,” CBS has also renewed “Stalker” and “NCIS: New Orleans,” the latter of which has shown strong retention of its mothership lead-in.

NBC launched three comedies, and has yet to launch its drama biggie, Katherine Heigl’s “State of Affairs” (premiering Nov. 17). Thursday sitcom “Bad Judge,” like “A to Z,” has been middling at best, but there’s support internally for both shows and their stars. The jury’s still out on “Marry Me” (which debuted Oct. 14).

In this season of time-shifting and schedule-juggling, perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that the major networks have more greenlights flashing than red lights — so far.


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