Ratings aren’t just about the overnight numbers any more: @iZombieObsessed

This morning I read an article on the website iZombie Obsessed about fear that Rob Thomas’ newest show could be cancelled after a second season because ratings are declining, and what fans can do to prevent that. It appears that this information has come from The Cancellation Bear, a character that’s part of the TV by the Numbers website. Yes, ratings are the primary measurement for whether or not a show is renewed or cancelled, but they have to be analysed in context, and the changing way we watch television informs how those decisions are made. I’m not guaranteeing that iZombie won’t be cancelled at the end

Here’s some context in regards to the CW’s schedule: iZombie is paired with The Flash, which is the CW’s highest rated show. Yes, the viewership drops in the second hour, but the fact that the CW is willing to put those shows on the same night is a sign that they think that The Flash‘s audience will also enjoy iZombie. That they ordered five additional scripts for the show before the second season premiere is another sign that the network values the show. Also: just because there’s a decline in audience numbers, it doesn’t mean that those numbers are bad. Despite a fantastic slate of original programming (Mo Ryan’s article about Mark Pedowitz and The CW is a must-read), the CW is still a tiny network, the baby sister of CBS. When people talk about the broadcast networks and where they place, the CW is automatically excluded. None of the shows on the CW are NCIS or Empire, so we shouldn’t be expecting iZombie to be getting those kinds of numbers. Remember NBC’s Thursday Night comedy block? Community and Parks and Recreation never had great ratings, but Community got five seasons at NBC (and one at Yahoo), and Parks and Recreation got six. At their peak both were great shows, but the ratings were so poor that there was always fear of cancellation. However, NBC was performing so poorly at the time that it was a better bet to keep airing comedies with a guaranteed small audience than replace it with an unknown.

I could probably pay more attention to ratings than I do, but as an overseas viewer of American content, there’s not really anything I can do to keep the show on the air. Hannibal lasted for three years because of broadcast licensing outside the US, and given that iZombie is being fast-tracked in Australia on Stan, I’m sure that CBS and Warner Brothers are making money off the show that way as well. DVR numbers also need to be taken into account with Live+7 ratings. Furthermore, as we reach the era of Peak TV, there are more shows and content providers, which means that viewership isn’t going to be as large as it used to be, except in the case of Empire. In his latest ‘Ask Alan‘ video, Alan Sepinwall answered a question about why none of the new fall shows have been cancelled yet. He made the point that if a show performs poorly in a certain timeslot, there’s no guarantee that NCIS reruns are going to perform any better because there are so many other shows on. Some shows, like Fox’s Minority Report, have had their episode orders cut, which is a sign that they won’t be back next season. As I said earlier however, iZombie had its episode order increased from 13 to 18 before the season premiered, which is the opposite of what’s happening to shows that will definitely be cancelled.

Finally, there’s the Cancel Bear himself. As I said earlier, I don’t pay much attention to ratings, and TV by the Numbers is a good guide, but it’s not infallible. Furthermore, Myles McNutt wrote about the Cancel Bear two years ago, and provides the rules within which ‘he’ operates:

The Cancellation Bear is built around a fairly innocuous metaphor and a logical read on how the television industry works. It’s a metaphor that frames series on the same broadcast network against one another, being chased by a bear: in order to survive, a show doesn’t need to outrun the bear, but simply needs to outrun the other shows the bear will stop to devour first. It’s built around the relativity of television ratings, which TV By The Numbers argues is best considered within—rather than between—individual broadcast networks.

Based on this, I can understand why iZombie fans would be worried – The Bear is comparing their favourite show to the CW’s most popular, which is its lead in. Once again, you don’t give your show the best possible lead-in if you think it’s dead in the water, the CW has confidence in this show. What’s more telling is this section of McNutt’s post:

[TV by the Numbers] uses the Cancellation Bear as a front behind which it can insult “desperate fans” who would choose to look on the bright side.

iZombie is a cult show with less than stellar ratings. From Myles’ perspective, getting fans to worry about their favourite show being cancelled is part of The Bear’s appeal. Go and read the whole post, it’s even more true today than it was when it was written. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t love a show because you’ll be devastated when it’s cancelled. I’m still upset about Bunheads. I’m just saying that there are more factors that need to be taken into consideration than there were even five years ago, and combined with what I see as The CW’s confidence in iZombie makes me optimistic we’ll see a third season.

Other thoughts:

  • I love this show, but I’m starting to think that things generally shouldn’t go beyond five or six seasons as a general rule.
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