The first true KO of the 2015-16 broadcast TV season happened last week when ABC pulled the plug on the critically maligned murderfest “Wicked City” after just three episodes. While other shows have had episode orders cut (a kinder, gentler form of cancellation), “Wicked City” is the only show so far to have been permanently yanked from the schedule. The show was such a miserable performer in the Tuesday 10 p.m. hour that “Chicago Fire,” its competition on NBC, drew five times the eyeballs in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic.
ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee might want to call in an exorcist for that Tuesday 10 p.m. slot. It appears to have been nuked from orbit, salted, then cursed by a woods witch unto the seventh generation -- a truly apocalyptic dead zone that strangles all life within its bounds.
Within the past three years, six ABC shows have come and gone in the time slot. The longest-lived of the lot was the sci-fi crime drama "Forever," which was killed after just one season despite an intensely loyal fan base. But just as “Harry Potter” boarding school Hogwarts was unable to keep a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor longer than a year, ABC just can’t keep a single show there longer than a season.
Strangely, that specific day and time are a uniquely ABC problem. While all three broadcasters (and even some cable networks) that program at 10 o’clock have found their ratings eroded by DVR usage and streaming services, NBC’s “Chicago Fire” has held that slot steady for three seasons now, and CBS’ “Person of Interest” and “Limitless” have done fine by today’s ratings standards.
Not so for ABC. Signs of trouble began as far back as 2009 with the doomed Christian Slater drama “The Forgotten” (a nice softball of a title for critics). But it was in 2013 when the losing streak turned into a genuine nightmare for the network: From fall 2013 through spring 2014, three shows were brought to life and died in that slot: “Lucky 7,” “Killer Women” and “Mind Games.” None drew more than 1 percent of viewers in the 18-49 demographic, a poor return on a multimillion-dollar investment from ABC.
What Else Is On?
Putting aside the distinct possibility that a rival network really has put a curse on the slot, sources have laid out a few other explanations. Namely: Scheduling still matters, and many shows still live or die based on when they air and what they air against.
In general, Lee has done a good job of building solid nights of hits. Thursdays are “TGIT” (“Thank God It’s Thursday”) with three heavy hitters in a row: “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” Wednesdays, meanwhile, include a solid block of well-to-do family comedies: “The Goldbergs” and “Modern Family.”
But ABC’s Tuesday night in general has been a repository of also-rans -- comedies that weren’t deemed worthy of “Modern Family”-adjacent placement, followed in recent years by a genre drama (“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”). That lack of tonal cohesion makes it easier for viewers to flip to channels that air solid, established franchise players on that night -- in particular, the firstborn of NBC’s “Chicago” series, “Chicago Fire.” So ABC is stuck having to sell new shows to a disinterested audience that feels it has better (or just better-known) options.
Or, as one source noted, maybe people aren’t watching because the shows are just bad.