March 18, 2013



The Sked’s State Of the Network Reports:  NBC and CBS

Two good things, and only two, have happened to ABC in 2013.  One is Scandal.  The other is that NBC’s implosion has been so absolute and riveting (and it never stops) that ABC has been in something like a Network Protection Program by comparison.

And that’s all.

Thanks to Sunday Night Football, ABC is going to come in last place among the major networks for the 2012-13 season (Mitch Metcalf’s estimate is that it will end up with a season average of 1.85).  Every show it’s introduced and scheduling move it’s tried this season has been either a disappointment or a disaster.  And its veteran hits are all in decline, some at an alarming rate.

Let’s take a look at the carnage night by night:


8PM:  DANCING WITH THE STARS was always old-skewing, but the bottom has fallen out of its 18-49 rating, dropping more than a full ratings point to a 2.3 average this fall.  Dancing accounts for 3 hours of the network’s primetime, so that’s a serious slide.  Things seem unlikely to turn around anytime soon–no one in the cast of the spring edition has a Bristol Palin level of buzz–but with so many other holes in its schedule, ABC will likely have to keep it in place for 2013-14 and cross its fingers that the show stabilizes.  THE BACHELOR had the benefit of not having to face The Voice, and it’s in better shape with a 2.7 average.

10PM:  CASTLE is down, too, but it has a loyal core audience and at a 2.0 average it’s held its own better than Dancing.


8PM:  The results hour of Dancing hasn’t held up much better than the Monday edition, and airing against The Voice results, it’s in 3rd place for its hour.  But with a 2.2 average, it’s the least problematic hour of the night.

9PM:  ABC really doesn’t have a 9PM Tuesday at the moment.  Its ludicrous experiment of airing the fledgling HAPPY ENDINGS and DON’T TRUST THE B— against sitcoms on NBC and FOX has already killed the latter show and probably fatally wounded the former, and THE TASTE hasn’t been much of an improvement.  The network will have to try again next season.

10PM:  When the surprise renewal of BODY OF PROOF was announced last May, the word was that it was justified by the show’s international sales (ABC Studios owns the series), and all one can say is that those revenues had better be pretty damn high, because its 1.2 average so far this season makes last year’s 2.08 look like a blockbuster.  Hard to believe it’ll be back again.


8PM:  THE MIDDLE has been fairly steady with a 2.4 average, and seems likely to hold its place.  THE NEIGHBORS is definitely on the bubble, with a 1.9 average that might well have risen to SUBURGATORY‘s 2.3 if Neighbors had kept its original 9:30PM timeslot.  Its survival will depend on ABC’s crop of comedy pilots.  MODERN FAMILY, of course, is the network’s major hit, and even though its season average is down a point from last year, a 4.4 average is still something to be prized.  The trouble with Family is that it’s going to become increasingly expensive (this past season’s cast renegotiation battles were just the beginning), and since the show is owned by 20th Century Fox Television, the profit margins for ABC are going to get increasingly slim.  That makes the 9:30PM slot hugely important, and Suburgatory hasn’t done much with it, holding only to only half the Family audience.  It’s unlikely that ABC can afford to keep Suburgatory there next season, and the show may flounder in a less protected spot.

10PM:  Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the season for ABC is that NASHVILLE, despite ringing critical endorsements, hasn’t found a substantial audience.  The series runs last in its hour, and has lately been trending downward (it hasn’t seen its season average 2.0 since mid-January).  The show is still very likely to be renewed, as besides its critical praise, it reportedly does well with the young women demo and has been quite successful with regard to sales of its original music, but any further decline will be dangerous.


8PM:  Another blank space on the ABC schedule, where nothing has worked for the network in years.  It’s a very tough hour to program, with strong unscripted (FOX) and comedy (CBS) series occupying the territory, so ABC’s repeated attempt to launch dramas has made sense on paper–but not these dramas.

9PM:  There’s decline, and then there’s plunge.  GREY’S ANATOMY is down a full ratings point from last season to a 3.2 average, but even that understates the problem, because it’s been heading further down as the season has continued, recently falling below a 3 and below CBS in the hour.  Grey‘s, in its 8th season, is a very expensive show, and while its ratings certainly don’t put it in any jeopardy of being canceled, it may not be too long before the network has to consider moving it to either 8PM or 10PM, or to a different night entirely.

10PM:  If Grey’s moves, the obvious new tenant of the 9PM throne would be SCANDAL, which has had a remarkable winter, climbing steadily on the giant buzz that’s resulted from its absolutely crazy, compulsively watchable plotting.  If Scandal can keep up this momentum, it’s only a matter of time before it passes Grey’s and becomes ABC’s flagship drama.


8PM:  If the network decides to keep sitcoms in the early Friday hour, LAST MAN STANDING is likely to stick around.  Its ratings are in no way exciting, but they’re steadily in the mid-1s, and that’s OK for Fridays.  MALIBU COUNTRY is far enough behind that it’s in a much more problematic place, and if ABC has another family comedy it thinks would fit the hour, Malibu is probably out.

9PM:  SHARK TANK is a genuine hit, and the only question is whether ABC will keep it on Fridays or move it to a more ambitious night.

10PM:  20/20 is doing fine where it is.


8PM:  If Nashville is ABC’s biggest disappointment, ONCE UPON A TIME is its biggest puzzle.  The show hasn’t suffered any loss in quality, it’s still in just its second season (so weariness shouldn’t have set in), yet its ratings have plummeted recently by almost 2 ratings points from last season’s average.  Has the mythology become too complicated?  Too dark?  Has ABC damaged the show by airing it in a scattershot fashion riddled with reruns, instead of following the Grimm/Revolution pattern of two uninterrupted mini-seasons?  In any case, it’s going to be very difficult to win those viewers back, and what looked like a smash hit just a year ago is now just a moderate success.

9PM:  The move to Sunday for REVENGE did it no good.  Its recent ratings in the 2.0 range are down almost a full point from last season’s average, and significantly below the final season for Desperate Housewives.  Here it’s fair to say that a loss in quality has contributed to the problem, but again, once serialized shows lose their viewers, they don’t often come back.  While ABC’s Sunday hasn’t quite collapsed, it’s clearly faltering.

10PM:  Another dead hour, as RED WIDOW isn’t doing any better than the other dramas the network has thrown into this slot.

ABC is in better shape than NBC (the cosmetic effect of football aside), but just barely.  Tuesdays have fallen apart, while Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays are limping and Wednesdays aren’t living up to their potential.  The network is going to need a lot more Scandals on its development slate to put the schedule back together.

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."