Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ratings Hit Low

Ratings for "Once Upon a Time" are Down

Ratings for Once Upon a Time hit a series low on Sunday, March 3, 2013. This is nothing to get particularly alarmed about, but it is worth noticing. The numbers are still OK, especially with the "younger" viewers that advertisers covet. The series should sail through the remainder of the season and be renewed for next year without any issue.

There no doubt are several factors sending ratings lower. They most likely include but not necessarily are limited to the following:

  • Numerous pre-emptions since December, destroying viewing habits
  • Seasonal effects - last season, "Once" ratings also declined in the new year. Fairy tales and Christmas go together, not so much with spring and summer.
  • Dilution of the plot - there are many new, unfamiliar characters to confuse viewers, especially if you miss an episode or two
  • Erratic writing - some aspects of, for example, the "Tiny" episode were corny/campy/cringeworthy
  • Weak characterizations - Hook, for example, is poorly drawn, acting a bit impulsively for a worthy opponent
  • The nature of the show - a serial series, where you have a continuous storyline, will tend to lose viewers over the course of a season, especially with weak (or no) cliffhangers and many mid-season re-runs
  • A head-scratching decision to focus more on the "real" world - just like every other series - rather than the much more innovative fairy-tale side
  • A weakening of the main villainess, the Evil Queen, and dispersal of the negative energy that made her character so delicious. Exploring prosaic childhood traumas of fairy tale characters makes those characters both more understandable and less interesting. 
ABC is happy to put a positive spin on ratings, and since ABC is the one in control of the show's fate, its "position" is what matters:
Returning after a preemption for "The Oscars" the prior week, ABC's "Once Upon a Time" built on its lead-in (+31%) to rank No. 2 in the 8 o'clock hour with viewers (7.2 million) and young adults (2.1/6), while leading the slot to finish as Sunday's top-rated broadcast series with key Women (W18-34/W18-49).  
So, if you just take what ABC is saying publicly, "Once" is doing fabulously. Of course, network spin tends to be positive right up until the day they cancel a series. Just giving up on male viewers is probably not what ABC would prefer. If being No. 2 in your timeslot is a point of praise, well, things have changed, but one must be realistic.

The main thing to look for, of course, is a rebound or at least stabilization in the ratings. A re-focus on what made the series tick in the first place - two equal and compelling universes, one real, the other a fairy tale come alive, with lively writing and more of an orientation around the main characters and their agendas - probably wouldn't hurt matters. Perhaps limiting all the weeks off is possible from this point forward. "Once" is a great concept which should be leading in the ratings, not following along as an also-ran.

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