Patience may be a virtue, but when it comes to the TV business, it’s treated like a deadly sin. No less than five new series — CBS’ Smith and The Class, NBC’s Kidnapped, and Fox’s Vanished and Justice — have been moved or yanked since the season began Sept. 18. And the fledgling CW flopped its entire Sunday and Monday lineups after just two weeks on the air. Why so quick with the hook, guys? ”If a show doesn’t have a future, no one’s going to leave it on,” says one scheduling exec. ”Who are you doing a favor?”
How about dedicated viewers? Early duds like House and Everybody Loves Raymond only became hits after networks gave them time to find an audience. But with the competition for the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic in a dead heat, broadcasters aren’t showing tolerance for underperformers. That’s why Smith (which fumbled 21 percent of its lead-in) was canceled after three episodes and Kidnapped (6.3 million viewers) was sent to die on Saturday nights. Fox claims early losers like Happy Hour will return after the baseball playoffs (we’re not holding our breath), while CBS gave The Class a reprieve by moving it behind the higher-rated How I Met Your Mother. At least The Class isn’t a serialized drama, a genre that doesn’t seem to be working, given the soft ratings for 9 of the 10 new ones that premiered this fall. ”There are a lot of shows that require commitment right out of the gate,” says another suit. ”If you don’t see that commitment, the ratings of the first episode will be as good as it gets.” And a ”hiatus” can’t be far behind.