The television ratings game is not simply about numbers. The context of a performance matters, and ABC’s “Back in the Game” learned that lesson the hard way.
The comedy, which stars Maggie Lawson and James Caan, learned this week that its stay on ABC will not continue once its initial thirteen-episode order runs out.
Sandwiched between veteran comedies “The Middle” and “Modern Family” on Wednesdays, “Back in the Game” aired in a timeslot that came with both immense value and a significant burden.
On the one hand, it had a plum opportunity to attract curiosity eyeballs from those who watch either–or both–of the aforementioned ABC staples.
On the other hand, it had the duty of keeping the ratings momentum strong between ABC’s two appointment pieces. If it could not retain–let alone build on–”The Middle”‘s audience, it was doing the entire night a disservice.
The result was heightened expectations, and for a show that was not delivering anything special in its timeslot, cancellation was the ultimate outcome.
Absent the same flavor of expectations, ABC’s new Tuesday comedies “The Goldbergs” and “Trophy Wife” both scored full season orders.
From a numerical standpoint, “The Goldbergs” was not performing notably stronger than “Back in the Game.” “Trophy Wife,” in fact, has been consistently delivering weaker numbers than the cancelled comedies.
But the context of their timeslot matters. Though well rated, “Agents of SHIELD” is not as compatible with “The Goldbergs” and “Wife” as “The Middle” should be with “Game.” The Tuesday comedies proved that this week when they held steady despite receiving deflated lead-in support from an encore “SHIELD” broadcast.
That ABC–and the media–seemed far more enthusiastic about “The Goldbergs” and “The Trophy Wife” certainly did not hurt in the application of a numerical double standard.
The network also confirmed it will order an additional four episodes of Rebel Wilson vehicle “Super Fun Night.”
Like “Back in the Game,” its timeslot (post-”Modern Family”) comes with heightened expectations, and the reduced order reflects an ABC concern about whether the show is truly rising to the occasion. But insofar as a reduced order is not a cancellation, it is clear ABC is not determined to leave the Rebel Wilson business.