The biggest sweeps mystery for a few television shows this May is whether or not they can overcome weak or shrinking ratings and make it to another season.
Some programs might be saved by critical acclaim or because they occupy a niche networks want filled. Others will receive pink slips starting today when network executives announce their slate of shows for next season.
This year’s crop of shows that are “on the bubble” include Fox’s “Arrested Development,” CBS’ “Joan of Arcadia,” NBC’s “American Dreams,” the WB’s “Jack & Bobby” and UPN’s “Kevin Hill.”
Others hoping for another season include the longer-running (but potentially running out of steam) “Judging Amy” and “Yes, Dear” on CBS, and “Charmed” on the WB.
“What’s interesting is right down the list there are a lot of really good shows … that have never been able to find quite the audience they need to, to be secure,” says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.
” ‘Arrested Development,’ critics love that show. ‘Jack & Bobby’ is one of the most interesting shows to come along in a while.”
A ratings success for CBS last season, “Joan of Arcadia” has seen its ratings drop from an average of 6.6 last year to 5.5 this year, according to Nielsen Media Research. (Each ratings point represents 1.1 million households.)
The show’s family-friendly premise may be the thing to keep it on the schedule, Thompson says.
“To some extent the show is losing its way,” he says. “The first season was about feeling out the relationship (Joan) had with God and now it’s beginning to kind of repeat itself.”
Despite an Emmy win for best comedy series and critical praise, “Arrested Development” also has lost viewers compared to last year.
But the show might find a second (or third) chance in Peter Liguori, Fox’s new entertainment president and former CEO of FX Networks, says Initiative media analyst Stacey Lynn Koerner.
“(Liguori) takes chances with programming, from what we’ve seen on FX,” she says. “It will depend on how well Fox’s comedy development goes. They need to keep comedies on the air and if they don’t feel like they have strong enough vehicles, they may keep ‘Arrested Development’ around.”
The state of development projects also could have a hand in the future of “Kevin Hill,” Koerner says.
The legal drama starring Taye Diggs as a single father has better ratings than the recently renewed “Veronica Mars,” but hasn’t held onto the audience of its “America’s Top Model” lead-in.
Despite a move from Sundays to Wednesdays, “Jack & Bobby” also failed to deliver ratings to match its critical acclaim.
“The audience believed this was going to be something about the Kennedys,” Koerner says. “Certainly even in the media, there was just the understanding that it was to be a show about the Kennedy kids and there was some disappointment in that and some lost interest.
“The audience felt that the show itself was misinterpreted in its promotion.”
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