When The CW announced last month that it was renewing “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” for a third season, it was an sign from the network that it was standing behind its lowest-rated show. The decision is one that hints at both the changing business of broadcast television and The CW’s shifting priorities as a network.
Judging by ratings alone, there’s no reason “Crazy Ex” should have been picked up for another season. The musical dramedy, co-created by Aline Brosh McKenna and starring Rachel Bloom, averages just over half a million viewers and a 0.2 rating in the 18-49 demographic according to Nielsen’s same-day numbers.
Factoring in delayed viewing, “Crazy Ex” averages just a 0.3 rating week-to-week, which makes it the lowest-rated show across all five major broadcast networks. By comparison, the third season of The CW’s highest-rated show, “The Flash,” averages a 1.6 rating in the same metric.
Those ratings, as McKenna points out, are “incredibly consistent.” And while that means the show’s viewer base isn’t shrinking, it’s not growing, either.
“It’s the same people,” McKenna said at a screening of the Season 2 finale earlier this week. “To a person, it’s the same. And at this point because of Twitter, I think we know most of them … We have a very devoted, loyal audience.”
“Crazy Ex” has been a ratings underdog from the jump, so when it was renewed for Season 2 last year and subsequently moved to Friday nights, many assumed that to be the last hurrah. Two surprise renewals for a well-regarded series — but one with ratings this low — is pretty much unprecedented.
“I know this is going to sound shocking, [but] It has nothing to do with numbers,” Pedowitz deadpanned when asked about the show during his executive session at the Television Critics Association earlier this month. The show was saved from cancellation, he said, because it “helped alter the perception of what The CW has become.”
That means the show’s success is measured in a different way — in prestige. “Crazy Ex,” like its former timeslot partner “Jane the Virgin,” is a critical darling and even more importantly, one of the network’s few awards contenders.
The second season of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” debuted last fall to a 100 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 86 out of 100 on Metacritic, indicating “universal acclaim.”
And like “Jane” before it, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has helped The CW win some serious awards attention for the first time. Bloom took home a Golden Globe last year for Best Actress in a Comedy Series — only the network’s second ever — and received another nomination this year.
And though The CW has yet to break through in any of the major categories at the Emmys, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” took home two awards for editing and choreography last year. Bloom was also widely expected to become the network’s first Best Actress nominee until she was left off the list in a surprise snub. The network is no doubt holding out hope that she’ll be able to break through in 2017.
Perhaps even more importantly, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” small, but passionate fanbase includes executives at both The CW and CBS Television Studios, which produces the show. Sometimes the affection of network higher-ups can matter more than ratings.
“We knew that they loved the show, and we knew that the show was successful in certain ways, and it gets a kind of audience,” McKenna said.
She added that the backing of the network gave the producers enough confidence that they made no plans for the possibility that they wouldn’t be renewed: “We just wrote the show as if we were going to get more seasons, knowing that we were very supported and they would do their best to make it work.”
Back in 2015, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” most recent musical predecessor “Galavant” scored it’s own surprise renewal based almost entirely on the fact that then-ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee was a fan of the show. (“Galavant” did not get a third season once Lee was ousted and replaced by Channing Dungey last year.)
“Critically acclaimed, great programming, sometimes you just leave it on the air and, hopefully, it finds an audience. I’m hoping that happens,” Pedowitz said at TCA. “And if it doesn’t, I’ll have no regrets of having continued the series on Rachel and Aline’s behalf.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that The CW recently signed a lucrative five-year licensing deal with Netflix that can help offset the cost of low ratings for all that critically acclaimed programming. Netflix bought the streaming rights to the network’s current library of shows for a price reportedly as high as $1 billion.
The fact that a streaming deal bought The CW enough wiggle room to renew its lowest-rated series serves as a good reminder that as broadcast TV sheds viewers across the board, linear ratings and advertising dollars are a smaller piece of the puzzle than they have been in the past.