As recently as three years ago, it used to be that — if a show fell below a 2.0 rating in the 18-40 demo — it was as good as canceled. That’s not true, anymore. As network television faces more competition from cable, and as more shows are competing for our attention, the networks have settled for much, much less. Modern Family is the biggest hit on television, for example, and yet it’s 5.5 rating in the 18-49 demo wouldn’t have even broken the Top 10 back in 2004.
In fact, it would’ve gotten trounced by Average Joe: Hawaii, which got a 7.2 in the demo. Friends in its final season received more than a 12.0 in the demo. Television shows these days are surviving with a 1.5 ratings, which — as Ken Levine wrote not too long ago — is the barely more than the margin of error for television ratings in the old days of Cheers and Seinfeld.
Over on Salon, after NBC decided to reformat instead of cancel Up All Night (which is hovering around a 1.6 rating), Willa Paskin asked “Is This the New Normal?” It obviously takes much less for a show to succeed these days, but how low has it gotten? What does a brother need to do to get canceled? After all, only two shows have officially been canceled this season, so far: Animal Practice (1.1 in the demo) and Made in Jersey (0.8 in the demo).
So, I did a little research into a few of the shows that were canceled early in previous seasons to determine what their ratings were at the time they were canceled. This is what I discovered:
Undercovers — 1.3
Charlie’s Angels — 1.3
Prime Suspect — 1.3
Free Agents — 1.0
Playboy Club — 1.2
The Whole Truth — 1.5
Lone Star — 1.3
Awake — 0.9
I don’t include CBS shows because CBS still expects higher ratings from its shows (which is why a show like Rob! was canceled despite averaging above a 3.2 in the rating).
So, what can we surmise, roughly, from the ratings of early canceled shows over the last couple of years? Basically, the bottom line is a 1.3, give of take 0.2. It takes around a 1.3 rating point to get the axe these days. Animal Practice and Mob Doctor fell below those numbers. What did Community end with last year? A 1.9. That’s a goddamn hit these days, folks. That’s better than Guys with Kids and Ben and Kate, neither of which have been canceled yet. In fact, the reason why there haven’t been more cancellations is that the other new shows — while anemically rated — have not fallen below a 1.3.
What does it all mean? If the 1.3 is the new low, maybe … JUST MAYBE … if Community can maintain the 1.9 it got in its finale last year, it’ll get another season. And if Ben and Kate can keep its current audience, maybe it sticks around, too. My bigger concern is Last Resort, which has fallen to a 1.7 and continues to slip.