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Website has the odds on shows' survival

Dale Roe

New series are a tough sell.

It's only natural to get excited by shiny, new comedies, dramas and even reality shows trotted out by the networks each fall with constant promotional spots and promises of engagement and entertainment. September is a TV fan's holiday season. But it doesn't take long for those same enthusiastic viewers to begin deleting series from their DVRs.

Let's admit it: Some shows look promising but just stink. Others require the kind of attention that viewers who still feel burned by the trajectory and poor payoff of, say, "Lost," no longer have patience for. Then there are the really good shows that viewers are afraid to become attached to for fear that their new favorites will be axed before their time.

It happens. (Hello, "Lone Star.")

By my count, 21 new shows premiered on the broadcast networks in fall 2010. Seven of those are already history (anybody remember "The Whole Truth"?). And another nine are in trouble, according to Robert Seidman, co-founder of the website TV by the Numbers (www.tvbythenumbers.com).

Seidman, an Internet and statistical analyst whose earlier gigs included stints at IBM and Charles Schwab, compiles the site's new "Bubble Watch" feature. Along with the long-standing "Renew/Cancel Index," Bubble Watch analyzes ratings and trends and predicts your favorite shows' chances of sticking around.

Seidman and co-founder Bill Gorman (a former AOL exec) created the site in 2007 because they found no other blogs that focused on the numbers of television.

"The R/C Index predicts what would happen in May if the season ended today," Seidman explains. "With Bubble Watch, I am trying to predict what will happen in May." In other words, Bubble Watch involves a lot more prognostication. Seidman says that the site's dedicated visitors ("We had no idea such a big chunk of our readership would be fans of TV shows," he says) are much more interested in shows that could swing either way than those for which renewal or cancellation is a more-or-less done deal.

Bubble Watch includes all series on the broadcast networks, old and new, including the midseason replacement shows — Fox's "Lie to Me," which has been around for a few years, is labeled "likely to be canceled" while Seidman lists ABC's Matthew Perry comedy "Mr. Sunshine" as "likely to be renewed" after just one outing.

While a new Bubble Watch will appear on the site today, here is the list from Feb. 13 with a little analysis of my own (I have listed only those 21 shows that premiered in fall 2010, along with the recent midseason additions; the entire ranking of 76 shows can be found on the TV by the Numbers website):

Certain to be canceled: "Detroit 1-8-7" (ABC); "No Ordinary Family" (ABC); "The Defenders" (CBS); "The Cape" (NBC); "Perfect Couples" (NBC)

As with all of the shows in this category, "The Defenders" just isn't pulling ratings to justify its existence, and it's been shuffled off to Fridays, where TV shows are sent to die. I tried to get into "The Cape." While the premise was intriguing (if not exactly original), I found the execution to be silly and scattered. It morphed from a copy of the campy 1960s TV "Batman" to a rip-off of the more recent Christopher Nolan films in the span of its first two hours. And it woefully misused Summer Glau.

I'm sort of sad about the inclusion of "No Ordinary Family," one of my guilty pleasures. I know it's cheesy and derivative (the Powells even call themselves "supers," just like the family in "The Incredibles") and I know some of the performances are awful (especially Autumn Reeser's turn as a comic book fan-girl lab assistant), but it really is a relatively wholesome and only mildly violent show with a positive message that the whole family can watch together. I'm blaming its lack of viewership on the pilot, which had a drippy marriage-in-crisis subplot that quickly vanished.

"Detroit 1-8-7" is fine, but do we need another cop show? "Perfect Couples" is just awful.

Likely to be canceled: "Off the Map" (ABC); "$#*! My Dad Says" (CBS); "Traffic Light" (Fox); "The Event" (NBC)

"Off the Map" and "Traffic Light" are really too new to call. At least I'm hoping that's the case for "Traffic Light," one of the few midseason comedies that I really like. I couldn't get past the amateurish pilot of "$#*! My Dad Says," but it's hard to imagine it has gotten any better. "The Event," with one of the best pilots in recent memory, went downhill fast. I don't know if any retooling was done during the show's hiatus, but if it doesn't take a dramatic ratings turn upon its March 7 return, it could be kicked back to the previous category in short order.

On the bubble: "Better with You" (ABC); "Blue Bloods" (CBS); "Bob's Burgers" (Fox); "The Chicago Code" (Fox); "Law and Order: Los Angeles" (NBC); "Outsourced" (NBC)

I wouldn't be terribly upset if any of these shows fell off the bubble and into cancellation, with the exception of newcomer "The Chicago Code," Shawn Ryan's ("The Shield") gritty Windy City cop drama. With one of the most fully realized and complete-feeling pilots in years, the show is poised to become a memorable and long-lasting entry in the genre if it can make it over the hump.

I'm not a huge fan of the animated "Bob's Burgers," but I'd like to see it succeed if only because I'm afraid that its cancellation would open a slot for another Seth MacFarlane cartoon.

Likely to be renewed: "Mr. Sunshine" (ABC); "Hawaii Five-0" (CBS); "Hellcats" (The CW); "Nikita" (The CW); "Harry's Law" (NBC)

Other critics loathe "Mr. Sunshine," but I like it (at least, I like it now) and viewers seem to agree. At first I couldn't fathom why "Harry's Law," a cloying, preachy show with horrible ratings, was included in this category. Then I remembered that it's on NBC, a network that's doing so poorly its bar is set very low.

Certain to be renewed: "Mike & Molly" (CBS)

Sigh. What can I say? Better this show than "$#*! My Dad Says."

That probably gives you a pretty solid indication of my likes and dislikes. As for Seidman's own tastes, he admits to liking television a lot ("more than the numbers analysis," he says) although he prefers cable shows such as FX's "Lights Out" ("As a fan, sadly I'm not optimistic about its prospects for renewal," he admits).

Seidman says he doesn't expect any dramatic shifts in the current list, but adds: "I hope I'm wrong. Things will be much more interesting if I am."