Over at Vulture, Josef Adalian has an amazing chart showing the decline of ratings of returning shows during the 2012-2013 television season. There are lessons to be learned from some of the shows that suffered the worst collapses. The Keifer Sutherland drama Touch fell 64 percent in the ratings, a cratering that’s probably due to its disappearance from Fox’s calendars, and relatively unheralded reappearance. NBC’s musical account of the staging of a Broadway show Smash fell 58 percent in the ratings in its second year, a sign that no matter how much network chairman Bob Greenblatt loved his passion project, very few other people shared his enthusiasm.
But while the shows that sunk in the ratings failed for all sorts of reasons, from creative misfires like the retooling of Up All Night to simple wearing out of their welcome, as was the case for veterans like Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing With The Stars, there might be more to learn from the twelve shows that actually saw their ratings rise, and which fall into three broad categories:
1. They’re supernatural shows: The CW’s venerable standby Supernatural was up 22 percent in the ratings this season for the biggest gain. The Vampire Diaries was up 15 percent. And NBC’s little-heralded success of the Greenblatt era, Grimm, rose 14 percent during the 2012-2013 season. The Twilight craze may be ending, but fantasy is going strong on television, and fantasy with a darker cast than ABC’s fairy tale drama Once Upon A Time, which fell 12 percent this season. Networks are still casting about for science fictional hits, whether at NBC, where world-without-electricity drama Revolution strayed far from its premise and its strong initial ratings after a long break, or Fox, which is trying again this fall with futuristic cop drama Almost Human. But maybe they’d be better off looking to the past for monsters and marvels.
2. They’re about families: With the show under threat of cancellation, Parenthood‘s ratings ticked up 8 percent, while the animated show Bob’s Burgers, bouyed by a wave of critical enthusiasm, rose 5 percent. The former is a movie spinoff with a venerable cast, the latter an animated sitcom. But both are a reminder that there are relatively few intergenerational shows on television, and with Modern Family aging (and falling 14 percent in the ratings), there might be room for more programming that families can sit down and watch together.
3. The reality shows are inspirational—maybe even delusional: There have been a lot of words spilled about the growth of Shonda Rhimes’ soap opera Scandal, fueled by a rich conversation on social media. But Shark Tank, the ABC reality show in which inventors pitch venture capitalists on their ideas, saw the second biggest-growth of the 2012-2013 television season, rising 17 percent. Whether it’s the dream of getting your business idea into production, finding love—even if it’s not lasting—on The Bachelor, making the right moral choice on What Would You Do?, or losing weight on The Biggest Loser, audiences still seem to want to believe that good things can happen to somebody, somewhere, out there.