Zombie Time Slots Still Plague Broadcast Prime-Time

ABC's 10 P.M. Tuesday, Fox's 9 P.M. Thursday and Other TV Trouble Spots

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Ed Westwick as Kent Grainger and Erika Christensen as Betty Beaumontaine on 'Wicked City.'
Ed Westwick as Kent Grainger and Erika Christensen as Betty Beaumontaine on 'Wicked City.' Credit: Courtesy ABC

ABC on Friday evening quietly yanked the foundering freshman drama "Wicked City" from its prime-time lineup, becoming the first broadcaster this fall to formally cancel a new series. That's a matter of semantics, of course, given that similarly blighted shows like "Minority Report," "Blood & Oil" and "The Player" are merely burning off their remaining episodes. But in doing so, ABC all the same vacated TV's most troubled time slot.

Starring "Gossip Girl" alum Ed Westwick as a pervy serial killer haunting a pre-Hair Metal Sunset Strip, the feel-bad drama of the fall aired just three times in the Tuesday 10 p.m. slot before ABC took it out of circulation. With an average draw of a 0.4 rating among adults 18 to 49, the Nov. 10 installment of "Wicked City" tied an all-time in-season broadcast low, dropping 43% from the 0.7 rating among 18-to-49-year-olds delivered in the four previous weeks by repeats of "Quantico" and "Shark Tank."

But as poorly as it performed -- the show's three broadcasts averaged just 2.46 million viewers and a 0.7 in the 18-to-49 demo -- "Wicked City" is by no means alone in failing to find an audience in its time slot. ABC hasn't had a bona fide hit in the final hour of Tuesday prime since as far back as the 2000-01 broadcast season, when "NYPD Blue" was the night's highest-rated drama and TV's 16th highest-rated scripted series overall. Once Sipowicz and the rest of the gang at the 15th Precinct handed in their badges back in March 2005, a few workaday dramas ("Boston Legal," "Body of Proof") stepped in to fill the gap, but none enjoyed breakout success.

Things took a turn for the worse during the 2013-14 season, when no fewer than three new ABC dramas failed to fulfill their initial 13-episode orders. After averaging a 1.0 in the 18-to-49 demo, the blink-and-you-missed-it lottery serial "Lucky 7" was yanked after just two episodes in fall 2013, leaving ABC to fill the hour with three months' worth of repeats and so-called "spackle" programming. In January, the network kicked the tires on the Tricia Helfer vehicle "Killer Women," an Argentine reboot that disappeared after seven episodes, or two nights longer than its successor, "Mind Games."

All told, ABC that season programmed just 14 hours of original scripted content in the Tuesday night slot, leaving 60% of the allotted in-season hours to be filled with repeats and three installments of the hidden camera show "What Would You Do?" In 2014-15, ABC aired all 22 episodes of the supernatural crime drama "Forever," which averaged a marginal 1.2 C3 rating among 18-to-49-year-olds over the course of its single-season lifespan.

In the here and now, ABC plans to slot repeats of "Shark Tank" in place of "Wicked City" for the better part of the next four months, with an eye toward premiering the pricey new biblical epic "Of Kings and Prophets" on March 8. Originally slated to occupy the Sunday 10 p.m. slot, "Kings" was pulled in June after ABC called for the show to undergo significant rewrites and casting changes. It was replaced by "Quantico," which in turn vacated the Tuesday 10 p.m. slot.

(As always, the demise of your favorite show is all your fault.)

Again, as much as some observers would prefer to ascribe a sort of earth-shaking significance to the fact that "Wicked City" was the first show of the 2015-16 season to get the hook, your mileage will vary depending on what your definition of "canceled" is. For example, "Minority Report" has been a dead show walking since Oct. 9, when Fox announced it had scaled back its episode order to 10 from 13. No surprise there, as the adaptation of the 2002 theatrical is averaging a 0.7 in the 18-to-49 demo. The same applies to NBC's "The Player" and ABC's "Blood & Oil," both of which had their orders scaled back on Oct. 23.

Troubled times
That not one of these shows has even the slightest chance of earning a renewal -- like most series that put up weak live-same-day deliveries, none of the three wins back a significant chunk of commercial viewing in C3 or C7 -- effectively cements their status as burnoffs. They'll finish their truncated runs, whereupon you'll never see hide nor hair of them again. In the purest ontological sense, these shows are canceled.

While the demise of "Wicked City" makes for a handy hook, ABC is hardly alone in suffering from the broadcast equivalent of recidivism. Along with "The Player," NBC's Thursday 10 p.m. slot has played host to the likes of "Allegiance," "Rock Center with Brian Williams," "Do No Harm," "Awake" and "The Firm," a lineage of failure that runs all the way back to the moment after "E.R." flatlined in April 2009.

Then again, 10 p.m. in general is the Hindenburg crashing into the deck of the Andrea Doria, so the less said about that the better.

Fox's 9 p.m. Thursday slot of late has been visited by itinerant efforts such as "Gracepoint," "Backstrom," "Rake," "The Finder" and "Touch," and in its third season, the former Monday-night hit "Sleepy Hollow" has all but lost its head in the post-"Bones" niche.

Even CBS, which is far and away the most stable broadcast network, suffers from the equivalent of Rich People Problems, inasmuch as it hasn't been able to launch a new comedy out of the colossus that is "The Big Bang Theory." Of the six attempts made in as many years, only two shows (the whimsically titled "$#*! My Dad Says" and "¡Rob!") managed to retain more than half of the "Big Bang" lead-in; both were canceled after a single season.

Turnaround stories
If many time slots remain more haunted than an abandoned amusement park in a "Scooby-Doo" cartoon, a few recent reclamation efforts have been successful. Noble failures like "The X Factor" and "Red Band Society" have given way to the Wednesday night phenomenon that is Fox's "Empire," and the Thursday 8 p.m. slot that once housed "Charlie's Angels," "Last Resort" and "Zero Hour" is now one of ABC's strongest anchor hours, thanks to the indefatigable "Grey's Anatomy." Dick Wolf's recently-renewed Windy City civil service dramas now beat all comers in the Tuesday and Wednesday 10 p.m. slots, allowing NBC to command the highest ad rates in late prime behind only its own "Blindspot" and ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder."

Lastly, while there are those who would argue that time slots have become more or less irrelevant in an era in which nearly every viewer has the means to self-program via the time-shifting contrivances of DVR, VOD and various streaming platforms, it's worth noting that live viewing remains the default option in the U.S. More than three-fifths (61%) of all TV consumption is carried out in real-time, and while that figure is steadily being eroded by all the non-linear options, the prime-time schedule will retain some measure of relevance as long as the majority of viewers continue to watch live.

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