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Network Television: Ratings vs. Quality

When it comes to network television, the most important thing that showrunners worry about is the ratings. It’s the deciding factor on whether or not a show gets renewed or cancelled. But are the ratings all that matter?

One of the biggest problems that new and returning shows have is that they are sometimes put against strong shows on other networks. Some ‘bubble shows’ – shows that are not doing too well and are on the verge of cancelation – are put against shows like Glee, NCIS, CSI and American Idol, and are expected to get good ratings. Networks need to find a timeslot that gives those bubble shows a fair chance in getting their ratings and viewership up.

One of the biggest problems that I realized is that in the last three TV seasons, more than half of freshman shows get cancelled after the first season, due to bad ratings.

New TV shows ordered over the five networks (CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC, and The CW):

  • In 2008-2009, 51 new shows were ordered, however only 24 got renewed for a second season.
  • In 2009-2010, 55 new shows were ordered, but only 13 got renewed for a second season.
  • In 2010-2011, 46 new shows were ordered, yet only 10 got renewed for a second season.

In my opinion, one of the biggest problems network TV has is that there are too many shows (House, CSI, NCIS, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, etc.) that stay on the air past their prime years. These shows were really good in their early years, but that’s not the case anymore. I think that the quality of the show should be more important than the ratings, or at least be one of the deciding factors before a show gets cancelled. So why do networks keep them on the air? Because they have a loyal fan base that will watch no matter how bad the shows get. Take The Simpsons for example; it is one of the longest running TV shows, and year after year, the quality of the show diminishes, and it still manages to be on the air. The same goes for a lot of other shows, where just because the ratings are decent, network executives will keep the show on the air.  In my opinion, TV shows should end before the executive producers of TV shows & networks drive them into the ground. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen and I think this is one of the reasons that freshman shows don’t make it past the first season.


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