I’m introducing a new feature on Da Blog, adapting the Renew/Cancel Index used by TVbytheNumbers the past few years to predict the fates of scripted shows on broadcast television. The basic formula involves taking the average live+same day 18-49 ratings of each show and dividing by the average of all scripted shows on that network. Shows above about .85-.9 generally get renewed, those below .7-.75 generally cancelled, with shows on Friday getting about .2 leeway given the lower ratings on the night.
The adaptation I’ve made is an attempt to address two related issues: first, shows could premiere to great ratings and then crash through the floor in subsequent episodes, resulting in the Index’s prediction adjusting to the show’s post-crash level faster than the Index number can catch up to the show’s new level. Second, the Index has generally reset at midseason, with the index numbers only factoring in shows’ performances in the new year, indicating that decisions on the renewal or cancellation of shows tend to weight ratings later in the season more heavily, if they don’t ignore fall ratings entirely. To address these, my Index is calculated by averaging each show’s most recent rating with the previous week’s average, so after the first two episodes the show’s average 18-49 rating is what gets divided by the network average, but after three episodes the third episode’s rating is averaged with the average of the first two episodes, so each episode counts twice as much as the one before. The network average is calculated normally. This isn’t a perfect approach, as it doesn’t really solve the first problem until at least the third episode and may overcorrect for the second problem, but most shows eventually find a level and put forth fairly consistent ratings for the latter part of the season.
Although 18-49 ratings are the main factor that goes into whether a show is renewed or cancelled, they aren’t the only one, especially for shows in the in-between range, although the other factors are pretty much all based around various business relationships and concerns and most of the other things that get bandied about in the media are ultimately irrelevant. Most obviously, a show that is produced in-house will generally get the edge over a show that isn’t, but one of the biggest factors in the fate of shows, especially veteran shows, that doesn’t often get talked about is the economics of the syndication market, which results in most shows being able to be broken down into a few categories based on their age, very few of which make it to the latter stages, which are affected by the index differently.
- Rookie shows could conceivably get an index number anywhere on the scale, since the network has picked them up without having any past performance to work off of. Most rookie shows are only ordered for around 13 episodes, not the usual 22, and must earn their “back 9” orders based on their early ratings. Most shows with index numbers below .5 are rookie shows, and a show that does that poorly could well be cancelled after a handful of episodes, with the remainder of their initial orders being burned off in summer and/or on Saturdays (although networks may be moving towards letting them finish their initial orders no matter what). On the other end, rookie shows are particularly likely to have inflated premiere episodes, so rookie shows whose premiere ratings put them above the in-between range may be noted as being “Too Early” to call their fates. This year’s rookies, at least among shows premiering by the end of this week, are “The Muppets”, “Blood and Oil”, “Quantico”, “Dr. Ken” (ABC); “Life in Pieces”, “Limitless”, “Code Black” (CBS); “Blindspot”, “The Player” (NBC); “Minority Report”, “Scream Queens”, “Rosewood”, “Grandfathered”, and “The Grinder” (FOX).
- Sophomore shows, that is, shows in their second season or otherwise finishing the season with less than 60 episodes, have established their security over the course of an entire season and thus enter Season 2 with a full 22 episodes to play with. Their performance generally only determines what their fate will be in May when the network makes their decisions for next year. “Fresh Off the Boat”, “black-ish”, “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC); “Scorpion”, “NCIS: New Orleans”, “Madam Secretary”, “CSI: Cyber” (CBS); “The Mysteries of Laura” (NBC); “Gotham”, “Empire”, “The Last Man on Earth”, and “Sleepy Hollow” (Fox) are in this category.
- Things start getting interesting for shows on the syndication fast track. When a show is within a season of the magic number for syndication (generally assumed to be 88, or about four full seasons, although that number may be dropping to the low 70s), the production company will do everything in their power to get the show the additional season they need to get over that magic number. Thus, shows that will finish their season (usually the third) with a season’s worth of episodes left to hit 88 are all but guaranteed to get the fourth season they need to get over the hump. It isn’t quite a guarantee, especially for shows that aren’t produced in-house given “The Mindy Project” was cancelled after three seasons last year and had to finish its run online, but it is a force unstoppable enough that TVBTN predicts certain renewal for every in-house show in this category. I don’t go that far, but shows in this category do start out with the color of “probable renewal” in their prediction column before they premiere, and thereafter are placed one color rank higher than their index number would otherwise suggest; in-house productions may never fall below “probable renewal”. “The Goldbergs”, “Agents of SHIELD” (ABC); “Chicago PD”, “The Blacklist” (NBC); and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (FOX) are all shows premiering by the end of this week that are on the fast-track; “Sleepy Hollow” is not, despite being in its third season, because it’s a half-season-long “limited series” whose shorter episode orders don’t put it in range. (CBS isn’t devoid of fast-track shows, but “Mom” doesn’t premiere until after Thursday Night Football ends.) On the other hand, I may be a teensy bit more likely to predict cancellation for non-in-house shows on the lower end of the in-between range that would enter this category next season.
- All other shows are veteran shows, which for my purposes are all shows that have gotten over the 88-episode hump for syndication, or are in the process of doing so. These shows could still be cancelled, but especially for in-house shows, the terms of the syndication deal can matter as much if not more than the show’s ratings in going into the decision. A network could very well keep a marginally-rated show on the air in order to pump out more episodes to feed the syndication pipeline. As such, the “probably cancelled”, in-between, and “probably renewed” ranges extend a bit further down than in the first two categories, and predictions for these shows are much more of a crapshoot in general unless they have ratings good enough for renewal in their own right. The renewal and cancellation of rookie and sophomore shows can be reasonably reliably predicted based on their ratings and who produces them; if a bunch of veteran shows are all on the bubble, nothing you do is likely to be much more accurate than guessing, which also makes it harder to predict the fortunes of young shows.
How to read the chart: First box shows current time slot, second box current season number. Eps: Total number of episodes aired / total number of episodes ordered (if known). Last: 18-49 rating of the most recent episode. Raw: Average of first-run 18-49 ratings. Adj.: Average of the most recent episode and the previous Adj. rating. RawIdx: Raw divided by the network scripted show average. Index: Adj. divided by the network scripted show average. In general, >1.1=certain renewal, .85-1.1=probable renewal, .7-.85=on the bubble, .6-.7=probably cancelled. Anything substantially less than .6 for rookie shows indicates a dead show walking. Prod: Production company that produces the show (ABC=ABC Studios, CBS=CBS Television, Fox=20th Television, NBCU=Universal Television, Sony=Sony Pictures Television, WB=Warner Bros. Television). Asterisks indicate co-productions distributed by company shown. Incorporates ratings through Sunday, September 27; write-ups do not take into account Monday’s ratings or news. Network averages used: ABC 2.15, CBS 2.12, FOX 2.06, NBC 1.86.