TV's fall-season body count is heading for five.
In a signal that TV networks have less tolerance than ever for new programs that don't perform as expected, four of TV's five broadcast outlets have moved quickly to cleanse their air of weak programs.
Just about a month into the new 2011-2012 TV season, the CW has axed reality show "H8R." NBC has given the hook to sitcom "Free Agents" and retro-drama "The Playboy Club." ABC has yanked "Charlie's Angels." And CBS has moved Thursday-night sitcom "How to Be A Gentleman" to Saturday nights -- a clear signal to many observers that the program's days are numbered (if not already counted).
The activity seems slightly more frenetic than was seen early in the TV season last year. By November 2010, Fox had canceled "Lone Star" after just two weeks on air. NBC had dropped "School Pride," "Outlaw" and "Undercovers."
As the season progressed, Fox declined to order more episodes of "The Good Guys" or "Running Wilde," while CBS quietly allowed "The Defenders" and "$#*! My Dad Says" to run out of episodes
Simply put, TV networks have less room to maneuver when a new program fails to take wing. Through the week of Oct. 9, for example, CW's "H8R" reached an average of just 1.2 million people, according to Nielsen. That's fewer people in some cases than watch old reruns of "Criminal Minds" on the ION network. NBC's "Playboy" reached around 4.6 million people. "Free Agents" notched around 3.6 million. "Charlie's Angels" scored about 7.6 million, while "How to Be A Gentleman" ran around 8.3 million.
With those numbers serving as measures of performance the networks won't tolerate, viewers might glance at ABC's "Pan Am," NBC's "Prime Suspect" and ABC's returning sitcom "Happy Endings" as programs whose ratings may continue to get scrutiny as the season moves towards its halfway point just after the holidays.
Program axings help the networks keep their ratings up, but they can also cause headaches for schedulers. NBC will replace "Playboy Club" with a new news magazine, "Rock Center." CBS is moving veteran sitcom "Rules of Engagement," once slated for Saturday broadcast, into the "Gentleman" slot on Thursdays. ABC in the past has run repeats of "Grey 's Anatomy" in its 8 p.m. Thursday slot to make up for canceled content.