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Fall '06: Who Will Survive?

This TV season's fall premieres have largely come and gone, as have the first couple of cancellations and full-season pick-ups. While it's pretty hard to come up for a formula to evaluate the prospects of a long-running show due to the sheer number of different variables involved, I believe that the same is not true of new shows.

Bottom line: new series stand or fall based on their ability to retain, or even grow, their audience. Because a show that starts small and builds from there shows promise, while a show that starts big and then loses viewers with every successive week is doomed, no matter how big that original premiere was.

Shows succeed because audiences like them and want to keep watching them. If the ratings ebb, it means people don't want to watch. And then it's all over.

With that idea in mind, I analyzed the ratings of the first few airings of most new network TV series, and assigned shows to three different categories: green (healthy), yellow (potentially good but with caveats), and red (audiences fleeing like rats from a sinking ship).

Green Shows

Jericho, CBS. I admit that I'm bored by the slow pace of this post-nuclear-attack drama series, but it appears to have found a solid ratings level and is generally keeping its viewers. CBS has already picked it up for the full season, and rightly so.

Shark, CBS. This James Woods legal show is an old-school, non-serialized series that's a lot of fun. It's also maintaining a very large audience. I think Shark's a winner.

Heroes, NBC. One of the key ratings points I looked at was the change in audience from the show's second week to its third week. Every show's ratings drop after the premiere episode -- people tend to sample new shows, and of course a certain number will drop out after one try. But if your show convinces someone to watch for another week, and then they drop out -- that's a really bad sign. Anyway, Heroes actually improved its rating from week two to week three. It exhibits all the signs of a show that's actually picking up steam, via word of mouth and re-airings. NBC's already picked the show up for a full year and I don't think they'll be sorry.

Men in Trees, ABC. As someone who expected this charming, quirky show to disappear beneath the horizon before very long, I'm a little surprised to report that it appears to have found its audience. It's been airing against soft competition on Friday nights, but the ratings suggest that audiences like Men in Trees. I think that's a really good sign.

Yellow Shows

The Class, CBS. This show appears to have that Yes, Dear effect -- namely, it's an apparently awful CBS sitcom that seems to have found an audience. Its ratings have vacillated somewhat, which is why I'm giving it a Yellow, but it's a borderline Green.

Brothers and Sisters, ABC. The alphabet network has already given this Sunday soap a full-season pick-up, but Mr. Amateur Ratings Guy is here to tell you that it might be a dangerous decision. What I see when I look at the B&S ratings is a slow erosion of viewers over its first four weeks on the air. It's doing great numbers and the loss of viewers is slowing down, so it's possible that B&S will end up stabilizing -- hence its Yellow rating. But I'm a bit surprised that ABC pulled the trigger on picking the show up this quickly.

Help Me Help You, ABC. Ted Danson's latest sitcom seems to have stabilized in the ratings; it's got a great lead-in, so there's that, but I'm a firm believer that people won't keep watching a show if they don't like it.

Ugly Betty, ABC. Just picked up for a full season, Ugly Betty is doing well on a brutally tough Thursday night. The reason this show gets a Yellow is that the rating keeps ticking down, and given how soapy and over-the-top parts of the show can get, I'm a little concerned that Ugly Betty may end up trying viewers' patience over time.

Friday Night Lights, NBC. This well-reviewed drama has been a ratings disappointment for NBC, but the people who have sampled it have stuck with it. Its third airing last night actually showed an increase in viewers from the week before. Whether this growth will be enough to combat the show's low ratings is debatable, but the ratings give NBC a good reason to stick with Lights -- it may legitimately be building a following.

Red Shows

Just about everything else falls into the realm of the Red show -- unless it's already been cancelled, that is. Among the shows that are simply hemorrhaging viewers: Vanished, Justice, Standoff, Happy Hour, Til Death, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Six Degrees, and The Nine. I don't like their chances, not one little bit.


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