A Great Big Ratings Ouch

I didn’t expect the season premiere of Pushing Daisies to do the kind of numbers the series premiere did, but getting beat by Knight Rider? That hurts a lot. I hope they can turn this around, though there are a limited number of things that can be done to “punch up” a Bryan Fuller series; his shows are so stylized that the options for re-tooling are very limited. (Dead Like Me already proved that; the network fired Fuller, re-tooled the show, but it still felt pretty much the same as it was when Fuller ran it, just not as good.) The producers could and very well might add some new characters to Pushing Daisies, but any new character they could add would inevitably be as twee and cute as the other characters; in Fuller’s world, there aren’t a large range of ways for characters to act.

The lowish ratings for season 2 of Chuck are less surprising if only because it’s on NBC, where Universal productions go to die. But I still expected it to do better, since it seems like the kind of show — light escapist action — that people normally like to watch if it’s done well. Some of Alan Sepinwall’s commenters are suggesting that part of the problem with all these “re-freshmen” shows is the lack of summer reruns, which used to give a new show an opportunity to build an audience between the first and second seasons. NBC and ABC decided that the best strategy in bringing back these strike-shortened shows was to re-launch them completely, starting with scenes that explain the entire backstory for anyone who’s new to the series. (It’s kind of like how every season of Soap used to start with a special episode where the characters recalled every single storyline from the previous season.) But some shows could use the low-pressure exposure of summer repeats, particularly escapist shows like PD and Chuck; the reruns help establish a show as comfort food, the sort of thing you can watch to have a fun hour when you’re feeling low.

Well, that’s spilt milk. Chuck still seems to have a decent chance to keep going for a while, since NBC has already picked it up for a full season and, more importantly, since it’s on NBC, where poor ratings performance isn’t that poor in a relative sense. PD is more of a problem; ABC has higher expectations, and Fuller doesn’t have the kind of track record that leads network executives to believe that his shows will eventually become hits.

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