We live in a much different world than we once did even seven or eight years ago, when 4 million viewers or less than a 2.0 rating point meant almost certain cancellation. Now, overnight ratings mean almost nothing, because television is watched on DVRs, on streaming services, and on network websites. Thank God, too, because some of the best shows on television wouldn’t have survived two or three years ago with the anemic overnight ratings they display now.
With the overnight ratings they have now, these six shows would never have made it in 2012. In a marketplace where there’s over 400 scripted shows a year, they’ve had a much easier time of it.
The Americans — While The Americans continues to improve each season, the overnight ratings for the series continue to drop. The season finale in 2015 was down 5 percent from the already low-rated season 2 finale. The season three finale drew 1.2 million total viewers and a 0.3 rating. To put that into perspective, Big Bang Theory reruns on TBS regularly score 1.3 million viewers and a 1.0 rating.
The Leftovers — The good news for The Leftovers is that ratings started to swing upwards at the end of the second season. The bad news is, they couldn’t have gotten much lower. The series dropped about half of its overnight viewers in between the first and second season, and by midway through the second season, it was being seeing by around 500,000 viewers. Thankfully, by the time the finale rolled around, it had crept back up to nearly one million viewers, which is why HBO decided to renew it for a third and final season.
My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — Even for the CW, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend didn’t have a promising start, debuting with less than one million viewers and hitting a low by the third episode with only 650,000 overnight viewers. By the midseason finale, however, overnight ratings had rebounded to a tick over one million viewers, or more even than Jane the Virgin. Good, but not great (for comparison’s sake, Arrow gets somewhere in the ballpark of 2.7 million viewers on the CW).
UnReal — Lifetime renewed UnReal for a second season, based mostly on the critical love for the series and not the audience numbers. Despite being heavily promoted, UnReal debuted with only 815,000 overnight viewers and fell into the 500,000s for some of the season. It saw a slight uptick, but a .27 average in the demo was not good. It’s apples vs. oranges, cable vs. network, but for some perspective, NBC cancelled Community in the fifth season after it averaged more than 3 times the ratings of UnReal.
Halt & Catch Fire — I can’t explain AMC’s decision to renew Halt & Catch Fire after the first season, much less the second. Granted, the second season was significantly better than the first, living up to the potential it once displayed. But after a sluggish season one premiere of only 1.2 million viewers, it had fallen to 480,000 overnight viewers by the season two finale. AMC, nevertheless, re-upped. They must know something we don’t.
Fargo — There was some debate about whether Fargo would be renewed after the first season, because ratings were not exactly huge. The first season ended with something like 2 million overnight viewers, and FX waited a beat to renew. They didn’t wait after the second season, despite the fact that ratings continued to fall in the second season. The S2 finale was seen by 1.8 million overnight viewers, but Fargo averaged closer to 1.2 million for most of the season. Clearly, it was benefitting from re-airs and streaming views.