Beware the Cancellation Bear

The Journal-Gazette of Fort Wayne has a good write-up on The Cancellation Bear.

The website TV By the Numbers is making sport out of predicting which television series will survive or disappear, and the first weeks of a new TV season are particularly busy. The Renew/Cancel Index is a popular feature, where all the broadcast networks’ shows are given ratings from one (certain to be cancelled) to five (certain to be renewed).

Less than four weeks into the new season, two shows – CBS’ “Made in Jersey” and NBC’s “Animal Practice” – are already swimming with the fishes. The site gives six other shows the dreaded single frowning face. Site co-founder Bill Gorman, asked to go out on a limb, predicted “The Mob Doctor” on Fox will be next to disappear.

Gorman and partner Robert Seidman regularly tweet about their predictions as “The Cancellation Bear.” The name refers to the old joke about two men being chased by a bear; you don’t have to be faster than the bear, just outrun the other guy. Most TV shows just need better ratings than other programs on their network to survive.

(Before I get to the content of the post, I’d never heard that joke about the bear. I’d heard it about gators. Maybe because Gulf Coast?)

I consider the Bear to be an invaluable source. It’s more than entertainment, it’s a guide to entertainment. If a TV show isn’t going to last, then it’s not worth my time to invest in it. This is less true of comedies than dramas and science fiction. In the case of the latter, it most likely means that storylines will go very unresolved. Of course, some shows have demonstrated that you can have seasons and seasons to tell a story and the end result is the introduction of storylines that go unresolved, but it’s still a better arrangement. In the case of comedies, it’s less a matter of unresolved storylines and more a matter of getting excited about shows right when they go away. That’s precisely what happened last year with Man Up and, believe it or not, several years ago Cavemen (though in the latter case, I was at least very prepared for it). This year, I managed to avoid getting invested in Red Widow and Deception.

While I’m on the subject, I want to congratulate ABC for something. Two of their shows quickly turned out to be duds, Last Resort and 666 Park Avenue. Instead of just pulling them off, as usually happens, they’re giving them an opportunity to wrap up storylines. In addition to being good for the fans, I think this is good for the network (or at least, I hope it proves to be). If networks want us to invest in a series that may or may not be around, they need to give us a consolation prize if it doesn’t make it. If not a full half-season, then a movie. If not a movie, then a comic book or traditional book. Something. I am not more likely to invest in ABC shows than ones from other networks.

Honestly, it’s reaching the point where I almost don’t want to invest in any new programs until I know they’re going to stick around. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if people who are being gauged by Nielsen take this attitude en masse. I’ve been chosen for Nielsen twice now in the past three years! So at least one Nielsen pick is influenced by such things.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Game of Thrones is the only show I watch now where I started from the beginning, rather than after I’d been hearing good things about it for at least one season. And that only because I like the books so much.

    • I’m in a similar boat. I’ve been watching New Girl and American Horror Story (in addition to Game of Thrones) since they started as well, but most of my must-watch shows (Archer, Girls, Parks & Rec, Breaking Bad, Futurama, formerly 30 Rock, …Project Runway) are things I picked up after everyone in the universe started talking about them.

      • I made the mistake of falling in love with EZ Streets and then seeing it get cancelled after about 6 episodes and replaced by Walker, Texas Ranger.

        • and replaced by Walker, Texas Ranger

          Ouch. Insult to injury…

          When I was a kid, there was a show called Nearly Departed that came on after ALF. It lasted something like three episodes and in the ultimate test of its irrelevance does not have a Wikipedia entry despite having starred Eric Idle. It was my first experience with the trauma of cancellation.

          Of course, the note on which ALF went off the air was traumatic on a whole different level.

  2. I really wanted Last Resort to be good.

    It was not good.

    I just don’t think the broadcast networks have anything to offer me right now, besides sitcoms (Parks & Rec). Everything I am excited about is on cable (GoT, The Americans, Justified, Mad Men).

    • Oh, and I have heard good things about a BBC America show called Orphan Black. They are re-running the pilot tomorrow and I set my DVR for it, will try to report back.

    • I guess it depends on what you’re into. There have been a plethora of good network dramas if you can put up with some melodrama. Scandal and Revenge have been fun. Arrow and Revolution are cool. Person of Interest has maintained my interest in a secondary sort of way.

  3. TV by the numbers might be good at predicting, but dear god their website is such a mess that I’ve stopped bothering to look at it.

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