On the Bubble: Analyzing Broadcast Series With Futures More Up in the Air Than On It

NBC announced yesterday that it has renewed its
musical drama Smash for another season; earlier, the network
acknowledged it will be bringing back ratings-challenged sci-fi drama Grimm.
For those folks, the exhale of relief was likely a big one. But the producers
and casts of many other shows are still holding their collective breath. Here
is a network-by-network look at the Big Four broadcast network series that are
on the bubble. Also listed are the freshman shows that have already been
renewed-or are likely to be. All ratings numbers are from Nielsen and represent
season-to-date averages.

Early on, the network cancelled two dramas that it
had high hopes for, Pan Am and Charlie's Angels; after decent initial viewer
samplings, neither show ever reached a proper cruising altitude, ratings-wise.
That may have been an indication, like with Fox's Terra Nova and ABC's The
, that genres like sci-fi and nostalgia remakes are not quite on most
viewers' radars right now. But ABC had some success with adding more sitcoms
this season, and its biggest surprise was Once Upon aTime, which
could be described as more fantasy than sci-fi. As far as its bubble
shows, The River is DOA, Cougar Town should perhaps not have been
brought back and Body of Proof is just not drawing enough viewers-total
or in the demo-to hold down a 10 p.m. slot.

CBS continues to have the most stable schedule in
broadcast primetime, leaving it with a different set of criteria for cancelling
or saving bubble shows than simply having to keep from filling too many holes
with new shows next season. That said, a case can be made for bringing back all
its bubble shows, including ¡Rob!, which just completed a short midseason run. Some
may have older median ages and some may have lower 18-49 ratings, but they are all
competitive in their time periods.

New success for the network came with the widely beloved
"It" freshman comedy New Girl and with
the overhyped competition show The X
. Regarding the latter, it speaks volumes when your numbers are 11.3
million viewers per show and a 3.8 18-49 demo rating-and it's termed a disappointment.
The show was far from it, but a revamped cast will compete for better numbers next
season. Fringe, another sci-fi
series, is barely alive on Friday nights and should be put out of its misery.
Many cable shows on Friday dwarf it in the ratings. Breaking In, like ABC's Cougar
, should have been left on the shelf. And while the Alcatraz numbers look decent still,
viewership has been declining each week. Fox already pulled The Finder, the Bones spinoff which was leading out of American Idol on Thursdays, and that is not a good sign for the
rest of the bubble entries.

little worked in the way of new shows for NBC this season. Yes, Smash was
renewed, but NBC has invested a lot of money in the series,
and may have committed to running a second season before the first
one even aired. NBC is touting Smash's
season average of 7.7 million viewers and a 2.6 18-49 demo rating, but they
conveniently leave out that the series continues to decline each week. This
past Monday, it drew only 6.7 million viewers, nearly five million less than
its premiere seven weeks ago. And its 18-49 rating is down 1.5 rating points
from the 3.8 it produced in its premiere. Granted, that average demo rating is
160% higher than any other show NBC aired on Monday nights in that time period
this season, but that doesn't make it more attractive to advertisers. Beyond
that, the network once known for its high-rated comedies has not had much
success with that genre of late; most of its new sitcoms are on the bubble. So
we can expect that some of the network's veteran fence sitters, such as Parks
and Recreation
and Community, will probably be saved. And legal
drama The Firm will most likely to be

Freshman Successes (series renewed or likely to be)