As the current television season winds down, one prominent TV writer notes a disturbing trend for the broadcast networks. Writing in The New York Times, Bill Carter warns of a sophomore slump.
“Even with increased competition from cable television and online entertainment, networks could always count on new hits to be their strongest line of defense. And for decades the best thing about these new shows was that they continued to get stronger in their second season,” Carter writes. “But in the television season about to end, some of the most popular new shows from a year ago have not built on their initial success — and in fact have wound up in premature decline.”
Carter cites shows including CBS’s “Two Broke Girls,” ABC’s “Last Man Standing” and “Once Upon a Time” and Fox’s “New Girl,” all introduced in fall 2011, as disappointments in their second seasons.
“That does not include the calamitous plunge for more marginal shows, like NBC’s ‘Smash,’ which lost half its audience this year and was canceled last Friday,” Carter writes.
Said Warren Littlefield, who had a hand in long-running NBC hits such as “Seinfeld” and “Friends”: “It’s something new for breakout hit shows to be down in their second year. And yes, it’s alarming.”
Adds Carter: “In the last few days, the networks announced the new shows they have ordered, and their message was unmistakable: We need new hits — a lot of them.
“The four major networks will present a total of at least 41 new series next season, surely among the most to be introduced in one season. And they are not finished; other shows are expected to be announced within weeks.”
The current season has seen a few exceptions to the sophomore slump, Carter notes. He cites second-season growth for CBS’s “Person of Interest” and ABC’s “Scandal,” but notes that most sophomore shows have seen ratings declines.
“Executives say one factor in the downturn for second-year shows has been the across-the-board ratings drop afflicting the industry. Every network is down in the category most closely watched by advertisers — viewers ages 18 through 49 — by margins ranging from 3 percent for CBS to 21 percent for Fox,” Carter writes.
Brad Adgate, senior VP for research at Horizon Media, is quoted in the story saying: “Obviously, this has just been a terrible year for network television. And it means this pilot season is the most important for the networks that I can remember.”
“Mr. Adgate said too much was asked of some of the new hits, such as counting on them to prop up whole nights,” Carter adds.
Adgate notes: “In the case of ‘Two Broke Girls,’ I think CBS asked it to be a linchpin show. It’s not a linchpin show yet, like ‘Big Bang Theory.’”
Carter notes that CBS moved “Two Broke Girls” this season to Monday night at 9, the tentpole spot for that night. “Even with delayed viewing counted, it is down almost a million viewers among the 18-to-49 group,” Carter writes.
Adgate adds a grim footnote for broadcast in general: “You have the competition from cable. And now streaming video. And you have young people turning off their TVs. How can a show grow in that environment?”