Three midseason shows that follow the “Friends” model are getting more than a little help from their friends – those friends being the other shows in their comfortable timeslots.
Between their debuts and last week, NBC’s “Perfect Couples,” CBS’s “Mad Love,” and Fox’s “Traffic Light” were three of the four midseason network shows doing the best jobs of retaining their first-time audiences. All three are about tribes of young friends sorting through romantic entanglements.
The other show in the top four – which has the third best retention as of its episode Monday – is Fox’s “The Chicago Code,” which couldn’t be less like “Friends.”
Of the three comedies, “Mad Love” is the only one with enviable ratings – scoring a 2.7 last week.
But on Monday, for the first time, it had to get by without a little help from new episodes of other comedies. CBS ran re-runs of every show in primetime except "Mad Love," including the hits “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men,” the future of which is utterly uncertain.
“Mad Love” still turned in respectable numbers -- but couldn't do alone what it has with help from other show’s new airings. Fending for itself, “Mad Love” slid from its 2.7 last week to 2.4 this week -- and was down 20 percent from its debut audience. That makes it, as of this week, only the fifth-best midseason network show in terms of audience retention. (See chart.) But it is still one of the best-rated of the new shows.
"Perfect Couples," which last aired Feb. 24 and earned a mere 1.4, is the only midseason network show that has held onto its ratings since it debuted with a special preview episode in December. The "Chicago Code" scored a 2.0 Monday, losing just 17 percent since its debut, and “Traffic Light" had a 1.6 in its latest episode, Feb. 22, down 16 percent.
(Update, March 9, 9:23 a.m.: "Traffic Light" scored a 1.5 in preliminary ratings Tuesday, down from 1.6 on Feb. 22 and down 21 percent from its debut)
Before Monday, “Mad Love” had lost just 10 percent of its audience, making it the most successful midseason show, in terms of audience retention, aside from "Perfect Couples." But the ratings slide Monday brought it down 20 percent from its debut.
Audience retention isn't easy, or even the norm. All 12 new network shows to premiere this midseason – except for "Secret Millionaire," which had excellent numbers in its March 6 debut, and“Perfect Couples” – have lost a double-digit percentage of their ratings.
And three shows -- NBC's "The Cape," Paula Abdul's limited-run "Live to Dance" on CBS and Fox's "Bob's Burgers" -- have all lost about half of their original audiences.
"Bob's Burgers" has easily best excuse: The show’s debut was wildly boosted by an NFL Wild Card Game, and even with the dropoff, “Burgers” continues to fare well, scoring a solid 2.2 on Sunday.
Also, sliding shows are in good company: Conan O'Brien and Oprah Winfrey's OWN are among the heavy-hitters that have slipped in the ratings after promising debuts.
Though not as important as huge viewership, audience retention is still important to advertisers because they want to know, with some certainty, how many people will see their ads.
“They’re not going to be surprised,” said Horizon Media senior vice president of research Brad Adgate. “Theres’s going to be a consistent audience delivery that is somewhat predictable.”
What remains to be seen is whether any of the new shows can not only hold but expand their audiences. NBC's “The Office,” for example, has proven that even an initial slide isn’t a death knell: The show slipped after its debut, only to become one of TV’s biggest hits in the following seasons.
It now anchors the Thursday night block that includes “Perfect Couples.”
For all the midseason shows that owe a debt to “Friends,” meanwhile, the one that owes the biggest may be “Mr. Sunshine.” NBC’s hit made a star of its lead actor, Matthew Perry.
“Mr. Sunshine” scored a 2.4 last week, down 35 percent from its debut – but it’s holding its own against “American Idol.”
How does it do it? Thanks in part – you guessed it – to its friends. The show’s lead-in is the hit “Modern Family.”