ABC has found a brand new hit in The Good Doctor. The Freddie Highmore medical drama has posted huge numbers in its first three weeks, eclipsing those of lead-in Dancing with the Stars. The news is surely a relief to ABC, which struggled to fill the Monday-at-10 slot last season, with Conviction and Quantico, after stalwart Castle ended. Would The Good Doctor do as well if it aired a day later? Maybe. But given ABC's track record the past few years there, it could've also wound up another casualty.
ABC's Tuesdays at 10 is its death slot, its black hole that sucks in shows and never spits them back out. It's what Kevin (Probably) Saves the World is currently tasked with saving, and not doing a very good job at it, drawing 3.6 million viewers and a precarious 0.8 in the all-important adults 18-to-49 demographic Tuesday, down from 4.17 million and a 1.0 for its premiere last week. Kevin is just the latest series with the increasingly thankless task of holding down the fort there; the TV graveyard is littered with ghosts of ABC's past. Sure, some of these shows were, to put it charitably, not great, and neither were some of their lead-ins, but not all of them were beyond hope even as ratings eroded as a whole. And if it could, ABC definitely would walk back certain cancellations now.
ABC's woes began slowly after it moved Boston Legal to Mondays to finish its five-season run in fall 2008. The following two seasons saw four shows — Eli Stone, Cupid, The Forgotten and V — inhabit the slot to so-so ratings, with only one (V) earning a renewal (it was canceled after its second season).
The 2010-11 season gave ABC a wee bit of hope. After Detroit 1-8-7 concluded its 18-episode run, which declined to a 4.6 million viewers and a 1.1 rating by its series finale, Dana Delany's Body of Proof enjoyed a respectable first season — especially for a midseason replacement — averaging 10.9 million viewers and a 2.3. It was renewed for a 20-episode second season and remained in the slot through April 2012.
Displaced by newbie Scandal on Thursdays, Private Practice replaced Body of Proof in April 2012 and stayed there for its shortened final season that ended in January 2013, during which it dropped more than 20 percent from the previous season. Body of Proof kicked off what would be its third and final season in February, averaging 8 million viewers — nearly double Private Practice's audience — but only a 1.36 rating, which is what matters most, making it ABC's lowest-rated drama (though not by much since Private Practice only pulled a 1.4). ABC canceled Body of Proof in May, which they may come to regret.
Fall TV Popularity Contest: Which New Shows Won You Over?
The 2013-14 season was ABC's darkest timeline (so far). Three new scripted series aired in the slot during the season, on top of filler like Primetime: What Would You Do? and various repeats to bridge the gaps. The first was Lucky 7, which lasted a mere two episodes, with an average of 3.5 million and a 1.0, and was the first new show of the season to be canceled. In January, Killer Women, starring Tricia Helfer, was DOA (3.41 million, 0.72) and got pulled in February for Mind Games. The Steve Zahn-Christian Slater drama had an even shorter lifespan, lasting five episodes (2.6 million, 0.78).
2014-15 offered some respite for ABC, and its best hope, but of course the season was squandered. Forever, the crime drama that started with Ioan Gruffudd waking up naked in the East River, averaged 4.83 million viewers and a 1.12 rating. Not spectacular by any means, but better than its three predecessors, and the show developed a very loyal following. But it was produced by an outside studio, Warner Bros., instead of in-house ABC Studios, and like Body of Proof, it was ABC's lowest-rated drama of the year, so it got the boot.
The good news about 2015-16? ABC's Tuesdays fell one show short of matching its disastrous 2013-14 slate. Wicked City (2.46 million, 0.7) was shuffled away after three episodes. Of Kings and Prophets, the elaborate Biblical drama and dragon-less Game of Thrones wannabe, bowed in March and was put out of its misery after two episodes (2.87 million, 0.7).
ABC tried a new tactic for 2016-17: put an existing series in the berth instead of a new show. Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, heading into its fourth season, received the dubious honor. The show has never been the massive hit ABC/Disney/Marvel had wanted it to be and it cratered 30 percent in the later timeslot (2.3 million, 0.6), but it kept the lights on and had good DVR playback (not to mention corporate synergy) to earn a fifth season, where it'll move to the original death slot, Fridays.
SHIELD's vacated berth paved the way for Jason Ritter's Kevin (Probably) Saves the World this season. The quirky spiritual drama tied old-skewing NCIS: New Orleans in the demo last week, but now it's dead last in the timeslot in both measures. It's early days — and ABC has an even worse performing show, Ten Days in the Valley (3 million, 0.45), though that is a limited series — but if Kevin's ratings continue to plummet, then Kevin (Probably) Gets Canceled. The show's already lucky that NBC's sturdy Chicago Fire moved to Thursdays and Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders is no The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, but Menendez has plateaued at a 1.1 rating. Also looming in November is Chicago Med, which will replace Menendez after it wraps its eight-episode run; ChiMed averaged 6.66 million and a 1.24 last season.
Fall TV: Must-Watch New Shows
It's unlikely Kevin will save ABC's Tuesdays-at-10 slot, but if it somehow manages to improve, stabilize and hold its own, then hopefully ABC would learn from past mistakes and keep it around and nurture it, if only for some stability. Kevin is the 11th show since the start of the decade to inhabit the slot and is trying to become the first show since Private Practice to air there for uninterrupted back-to-back seasons (even in Private Practice's case, neither of those was a full season).
Last year, ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey said ABC has "oft-lamented" canceling Body of Proof, which was shopped elsewhere but never picked up. "I'm not going to lie. That was a good show for us and it was sad to see it go," she said. But ABC likely rues Forever's axing more.
Forever was in line with ABC's brand — playful, dramatic with immense charm and chemistry between the cast. Its live ratings weren't great, but it was one of those shows that had the potential to improve those numbers. It already had strong DVR playback — which again helped SHIELD a year later — including posting the seventh largest demo increase of the season. As TV viewing becomes more fractured and live ratings dwindle if your name isn't This Is Us, The Big Bang Theory or The Good Doctor, you take any positive you can get. That includes a devoted, if small, fan base that is still calling for a revival.
And in the age of revivals and un-cancellations, more adventures of an immortal medical examiner might the one thing that can breathe some life into ABC's dead zone.