November 15, 2012

THE SKED: “Guys” With More Episodes and the Sad State of Network Back Orders


Today’s announcement by NBC that GUYS WITH KIDS has received a 4-episode back order (making for a season total of 17 episodes) seems to require some note. In last night’s ratings, Guys had a 1.3 rating in 18-49s.  1.3!  The network is trying to spin this as admirable because it’s held steady with lousy lead-ins, but… 1.3!  To give it some context, that was 0.1 ahead of Arrow on CW, which is only technically a broadcast network.  It’s just 0.2 above Dexter, which airs in 25% of the nation’s households.  Fewer than 2 million 18-49 year-olds watched the episode, and fewer than 4 million people in total.  In 18-49s, Guys had the same rating as Tuesday’s Tosh.0 on Comedy Central, and it tied with the millionth repeat of The Big Bang Theory on TBS.

Nor is it alone.  To expand upon a point in today’s Nielsenwar column, here are the new 2012-13 series that have received back orders thus far, and their most recent Nielsen ratings in the 18-49 demo:



GO ON (NBC):  2.2






VEGAS (CBS):  1.6


ARROW (CW):  1.2

BEN & KATE (FOX):  1.1


With only 3 exceptions (2 of which have giant lead-ins from The Voice), every new show is under a 2 rating, and the majority are at 1.6 and below.  (The picture may become even more dismal if borderline shows like LAST RESORT or 666 PARK AVENUE receive back orders.)  The networks are opting for stability in their schedules, with the above 13 representing more than 70% of the total new fall shows (and MALIBU COUNTRY, almost certain to be back-ordered, will increase that percentage). Clearly, the networks don’t believe they can do better than the viewership they’re getting with the shows they currently have on the air.

With all these back-orders, the current schedule is what network television is fundamentally going to look like for the rest of the 2012-13 season–there are some midseason arrivals on the way, of course, and American Idol will return to spark things up (perhaps at a lower level than previously), and there are hits like The Voice and Grey’s Anatomy that will continue to score well, but increasingly, this is a business of shows that are watched by 2-3 million people aged 18-49, a number that wouldn’t be considered more than an OK opening for a major motion picture.

The economic effect of this sea-change, which is unlikely to be reversed despite the occasional new breakout hit here or there, is that the very underpinnings of network television are at risk.  Advertisers pay based on the number of people who watch their ads, and although the networks will strive mightily to convince buyers to pay for 7 days of accumulated eyeballs instead of the current system of 3, and will make every possible argument for demographic overperformance to justify premiums, it’s going to be difficult to persuade advertisers to pay higher rates for fewer impressions.  The best argument that network TV always had with advertisers was that it was the unmatched medium for reaching large groups of people at once, but now that the total 18-49 broadcast audience isn’t much larger than the reach of cable TV (and that’s not even considering smash cable hits like The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy), why advertise in Vegas rather than American Horror Story on FX, when they have identical 1.6 ratings, especially since cable historically charges lower rates than the broadcast networks?

This isn’t just the story of the 2012-13 season, it’s the unfolding saga of where network television is going to go over the next decade.  The current model is hanging together, but just barely, and very possibly not for much longer.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."