More than any year in recent memory, the survival of shows this season did not hinge on ratings.
You had Fox’s Fringe getting renewed for a final GTFO season with only 4.2 million viewers and slight 1.6 average rating. Then you had Terra Nova getting axed with 10.8 million viewers and a 3.6 rating. The biggest mitigating factor was a show’s cost — which usually rises along with its age — along with the difficulty of a time period, who owns the program, how intensely critics and fans feel about the series and, believe it or not, whether a network’s executives like the show. Here are the top nine highest-rated canceled shows this season:
1. Rob (CBS: 12 million viewers, 3.7 adults 18-49 rating): A 3.7? If NBC had a freshman comedy with a 3.7 average, it would run the show five nights a week this fall (Community was renewed with almost half this rating). Bully for CBS that their table scraps have these kind of numbers. The issue here was Rob Schneider’s comedy was shedding too much of its massive Big Bang Theory lead-in, and was trending the wrong direction. CBS suspects the time slot can do better.
2. Terra Nova (Fox: 10.1 million, 3.6): Some in the industry feel Fox made a mistake not picking up this ambitious drama for a second season. I agree. Terra Nova managed the rare feat of delivering a sizable family audience to a broadcast drama, found its legs creatively in its final hours and there was nothing else like it on TV. Cost was a factor, but so was the network’s belief that midseason addition Touch would be the network’s next big hit (it wasn’t).
3. Alcatraz (Fox: 9.6 million, 3.4): The ratings on Alcatraz keep sinking while the show, unlike other J.J. Abrams-produced dramas, wasn’t hugely engaging for viewers. A second season would have likely seen a ratings drop into serious red-line territory.
4. & 5. House/Desperate Housewives (Fox: 8.7 million, 3.3 / ABC 10.4 million, 3.5): I almost didn’t put these two on the list because their conclusions were more like dignified retirements than cancellations. Both respected long-serving solid veterans of the broadcast game whose cost/benefit scale finally tipped. Both were given time to craft series-ending storylines. Still, some dramas do manage to last longer, like Miami below.
6. How to Be a Gentleman (CBS: 8.7 million, 2.8): Short-lived. Critics didn’t like it, and it didn’t pull its weight.
7. GCB (ABC: 7.4 million, 2.6): Diving in the ratings, and ABC has several similarly soapy dramas like Nashville and Mistresses ordered for next season (ABC’s new trailers here) that could improve on these numbers.
8. CSI: Miami (CBS: 10.8 million, 2.5): Viewers don’t really crave and holler for a real ending on procedural crime dramas like they do for serialized shows like Fringe. Personally, if I watched any TV show for a decade, I’d want a final episode that gave a sense of resolution, some acknowledgement that a story is being told and not just a perpetual weekly reset. So I’m bummed on behalf of those Miami fans who expected a true series finale. Hopefully CBS won’t shortchange flagship CSI or The Mentalist when their time comes. (And, yes, Miami cut for age/expense/ratings; CSI: NY is slightly younger, and helping hold the fort on tough Friday night).
9. Unforgettable (CBS: 12 million, 2.5): Maybe it was the title. Maybe the somewhat generic format. But this series was one of the most, well, forgettable on TV. Its ratings weren’t terrible, but few viewers seemed terribly upset when it was axed.