first canceled shows 25 years 25 years of the first fall TV show canceled: The axe swings sooner than it used to“Manhattan Love Story” became the first casualty of the 2014 fall TV season on Oct. 24. What was remarkable about its cancellation is that this is the first time in a decade that the first show canceled was on the air longer than three episodes.

Zap2it ran the numbers on the first show to get the axe in each season since 1990-91, and they reveal that the networks are less likely to be patient with underperforming shows than they used to be.

The watershed year in TV

The 2004-05 TV season is considered to be one of the best (if not the best) year for network premieres in recent memory. But here’s another reason that year is so important — it’s the line of demarcation between when networks gave more leeway to new shows. Prior to fall 2005, the average number of episodes the first show canceled aired before it was axed is 5. From 2005 to the present, it falls to 2.5. As previously mentioned, “Manhattan Love Story” is the only first cancellation since then to air more than three episodes.

Note: This number does not include burn-off episodes. A lot of times canceled shows air already-produced episodes later in the year. Those do not count in episode totals because the show was already canceled.

Another interesting aspect of this is the average date of cancellation for the first show gone. Pre-2005, it was Oct. 12. Since 2005, it’s Oct. 4 — but another factor in play here is that back when the summer season was a wasteland of reruns, a number of fall shows started rolling out earlier.

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Which network’s axe is swiftest?

Interestingly, no major network is really any quicker on the draw than any other network. Out of the Big Four, CBS swung the axe first seven times, ABC and NBC six times each and FOX four times — but FOX airs one less hour of primetime per night than the other three, so it has a smaller field of shows.

The CW has two entries on the list, but it has only been broadcasting since 2006. Its predecessors, UPN and The WB, have no first-show-canceled entries. The CW/UPN/WB networks also typically launch their seasons slightly later in the fall than the Big Four, which makes it harder for them to have the first show canceled.

What was once a failure …

The average number of episodes each first show canceled aired is a good indication of how TV times have changed, but what’s also interesting is how the first shows canceled were performing 15 or 20 years ago. For example, in 1998, “The Brian Benben Show” on CBS was the first show gone that season. It only aired four episodes, which 15 years ago was a short leash. But it drew on average a 7 rating/10 share in households. To put that in perspective, those numbers are roughly equivalent to the individual ratings of “Criminal Minds,” “The Blacklist,” “Scandal” and the 2014 World Series.

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Are some years bloodier than others?

You might think with networks giving shows more leeway in the past that there also would have been fewer total shows canceled in their first seasons. You would be wrong. The average number of new shows that don’t make it out of their inaugural seasons is 60 percent, a number that’s consistent both across the decades Zap2it examined (1990-2001 vs. 2002-2013) and both before and after the 2005 fault line. All of the averages end up to be between 59 and 61 percent of new shows getting the axe each year.

But in case you’re curious what the outliers are, 1996 and 2011 had only 48 percent of new shows canceled in Season 1, while 1997 and 2010 were the bloodbaths — they respectively saw 78 and 76 percent of new shows not make it to a second season.

Posted by:Andrea Reiher

TV critic by way of law school, Andrea Reiher enjoys everything from highbrow drama to clever comedy to the best reality TV has to offer. Her TV heroes include CJ Cregg, Spencer Hastings, Diane Lockhart, Juliet O'Hara and Buffy Summers. TV words to live by: "I'm a slayer, ask me how."