The sample size is pretty small, but early returns on the new TV season suggest it’s not an especially good time to be a new show, and an even worse one to be a second-year show — particularly one whose first season was cut short by the writers strike.
Chuck, Pushing Daisies, Private Practice and other second-year shows that had longer-than-usual layoffs because of the strike have suffered some pretty steep dropoffs in their audience. Again, we’re only talking about one or two episodes in most cases, and the shows will gain some when later DVR viewing is taken into account (a little over a quarter of homes have DVRs now). But shows also don’t usually make big ratings gains once a season starts, so the outlook isn’t exactly rosy.
Consider some of these figures:
- Last season NBC’s Chuck averaged about 8.7 million viewers per week, and Life drew 8.1 million. Both shows premiered Monday to fewer than 7 million viewers.
- ABC’s Pushing Daisies and Private Practice premiered Wednesday to audiences that were 3.1 million and 2.7 million viewers below their averages last fall. Dirty Sexy Money fared a little better, but its audience of 7.1 million was still down by 1 million compared to last year’s average.
- Two more series that had their midseason runs truncated because of the strike — FOX’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and NBC’s Lipstick Jungle — have also declined. Even if you remove the 18 million-plus opening for Sarah Connor following an NFL playoff game in January, the show has still lost more than 2 million viewers. Lipstick Jungle, which was a surprise renewal in the spring, is down about 1.3 million viewers.
The common thread among all those shows is that none of them had aired an original episode in at least six months. The networks for the most part opted to rest their first-year shows after the strike, and no show that more than half a year off — even an established one like Heroes, which has lost about 3 million viewers so far — has come close to matching its ratings from last season.
In contrast, established shows that were brought back post-strike — the Grey’s Anatomys and NCISes of the world — have done OK, drawing audiences on par with or slightly below their 2007-08 averages. Two of the few second-year shows that did air new episodes in the spring, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory and The CW’s Gossip Girl, have been fairly healthy so far this fall.
The bitter irony for the second-year shows is that in at least a couple of cases, the long hiatus has actually helped them creatively. The first three episodes of Chuck that NBC sent to critics are as good, if not better, than any the series aired last fall. Pushing Daisies also has a strong beginning creatively, and Private Practice seems to have worked out some of the adolescent silliness that plagued it last year.
News for the newcomers isn’t a whole lot better. Tuesday-night competitors The Mentalist and Fringe are the only shows that can be labeled "hits" so far; the CBS crime drama is by far the most-watched new show at 15 million-plus viewers, while the FOX show leads all newbies in the adults 18-49 demographic (4.1, six-tenths of a point ahead of The Mentalist). The CW’s 90210 has been a CW-sized success, averaging about 3.7 million viewers so far and pulling in the young female viewers the network wants.
A few high-profile new series — Life on Mars, Eleventh Hour and My Own Worst Enemy — have yet to premiere and could still make a bit of a splash in the coming weeks. But if you’re looking for a new (or newish) smash this season, you’re going to have a hard time finding one.