The early going of a baseball season is often slow: Teams need extra time to gel, personalities need to mesh, and scoring is down. The inaugural Grantland Fall TV Cancellation League is no different: two weeks in and action, as well as the pickings, are slim. There is only one out-of-the-box breakout hit — Fox’s The New Girl — and all six of us were smart enough to leave it undrafted. Meanwhile, despite all evidence to the contrary, there are no spectacular disasters, no Lone Stars burning brightly with promise and then incinerating in the heat the hopes and dreams of a million changed channels — although Free Agents is coming tantalizingly close. (Friday-morning update: Drop the Zen schtick, Greenblatt! When a horse — or, say, a bunny — breaks its leg, you don’t stroke your chin, you act! Savagely!) To date, there have been no cancellations, no tepid votes of confidence, no showrunner firings, and no emergency castings of John Stamos. This lack of movement, this uncharacteristic patience on the part of network executives, is reflected in our first scoring update: There are two teams on top and a whole bunch of Seattle Mariners. For 3/4 of the league, the standings are grim — and we don’t mean overall No. 1 pick Grimm, which doesn’t debut for three more weeks.
Because of the lack of macro moves we’ve had to go micro for scoring opportunities, logging all of them for this first update from Nellie Andreeva’s yeoman-like daily ratings reports at Deadline.com. For now, teams aren’t penalized for positive adjectives, such as comedies Whitney and Up All Night being labelled “promising” (burn, Chris Ryan!), but all negative adjectives are worth 25 points each. Is it a coincidence that the same guy who wrote the draft preview ended up with the two highest-scoring shows (The Playboy Club and Free Agents) under this metric? Well, we’d say “maybe,” but the same guy is writing this so we’ll just call it brilliant foresight instead.
And for those playing along at home who were expecting a higher-scoring affair, don’t lose hope. Things always start to pick up as we hurtle toward November sweeps: Mistakes are corrected, second chances are squandered, and NBC remains unwatched. In baseball, we’d call this hitting season. In the Fall TV Cancellation League, it’s all about the misses.
Andy Greenwald (Homeboys in Outer Space): 225 points
The Playboy Club (“disappointment,” compared to Lone Star — TWICE, “plunged”): 100 points
Charlie’s Angels (“disappointment,” “soft”) 50 points
Free Agents (“doomed”, “dud”, “bleak”): 75 points
Person of Interest: 0
Dan Fierman (Heat Vision and Jacks): 75 points
Prime Suspect: (“disappointment”, “lowest fall Thursday debut ever”)” 50 points
Terra Nova: (“below expectations”): 25 points
Allen Gregory: 0 points
David Jacoby: 0 points
Man Up: 0 points
A Gifted Man (“modest”, but also a “vast improvement” over previous years, thus): 0 points
Once Upon a Time: 0 points
Hart of Dixie (lost zero audience from Gossip Girl): 0 points
Molly Lambert (The Magic Hours): 0 points
Unforgettable (“solid”): 0 points
Last Man Standing: 0 points
The Secret Circle: 0 points
Two Broke Girls: 0 points
Chris Ryan (Remember the Terriers): 0 points.
Whitney (“promising”): 0 points
Up All Night (“promising”): 0 points
How to Be a Gentleman: 0
Ringer (“OK debut”, “a self-starter”): 0
Lane Brown (The Viva Laughlins): 0 points.
I Hate My Teenage Daughter: 0 points
Suburgatory: 0 points
Pan Am: 0 points
Revenge: 0 points
Andy Greenwald (Homeboys in Outer Space): Those us who have chosen to take part in Grantland’s inaugural Fall TV Cancellation Fantasy League — we nerdy, agoraphobic few — are not expert Hollywood prognosticators. We are not “insiders” blessed with knowledge of backroom decision-making or network politics. We do not maintain a daily presence at the Smoke House in Burbank where we hide behind fake moustaches in a back booth, the better to overhear stressed showrunners unload their tales of writers room revolt and actor-induced agita. (Well, OK, Lane Brown does but he’s only there for the onion rings.)
We’re merely blessed with that most precious of natural resources and one that’s sorely lacking in the excutive boardrooms of Studio City: common sense. To wit: when selecting The Playboy Club and Charlie’s Angels with my first two picks I merely asked myself a series of simple questions. For example: Is there any possible version of Earth, adrift in all the multiverses, on which these shows are hits? Was there any public hankering for a female empowerment show about furry-fetishist cocktail waitress in the ‘60s and the bland strips of beef who love them? Did anyone who watched that anemic pilot think, gosh, I can’t wait to spend the next few years in this dank, loveless nightclub? Or how about red-state desire for a remake of a jiggly, forty-year-old action show that’s best remembered as a series of lousy, decade-old comedy films? With a cast better known for the tautness of their calves than their performing chops? I think we know the answers to all of these queries, and it isn’t “yes.”
As for Free Agents, well, strange things can happen in a draft — just ask Aaron Rodgers. The fact that a consensus first-round disaster was waiting to be plucked in the third beggars belief — was it so hard to predict that Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn, while talented, together have as much chemistry as a Creationism textbook? But that’s the way things go in television: Those in charge get blinkered by big names, big dinosaurs, big bunny ears. It’s only in the harsh light of autumn that the most important question gets asked: Does anyone actually want to watch this?
As a sidenote, I continue to stand in awe of my friend and editor Lane Brown’s performance in the league thus far, a kamikaze-like display of backwards logic. While it should be noted that Lane’s number one pick, the dreadful looking I Hate My Teenage Daughter is still months away from debuting, every other show on his roster is a hit. Let’s be clear: It’s not like he bet big on tweeners tagged with the hedging praise of “promising” or “not bad for NBC.” No, Lane went three-for-three on ABC shows: Revenge (the net’s “best debut” in “four years”), Pan Am (held onto “100%” of its demo and “added 1.1 million” more viewers on top of it), and Suburgatory, which Andreeva credits with single-handedly resurrecting a genre. While Lane clearly has no future in fantasy trainwreckspotting, his unintentional ability to predict hits probably means he’s got a studio job waiting for him in Burbank — assuming, of course, he ever manages to finish those onion rings.
Dan Fierman (The Heat Vision and Jacks): I feel like I drafted Ricky Rubio. I’m sorry, but it’s tough to watch everyone else trot out their first round picks, see exactly how they look in action, and, in the case of everyone other than Lane, thrill to the prospect of potentially owning the first show to be shitcanned. Me? I have to wait until the end of October for Grimm to be unleashed on an unsuspecting and undeserving American populace. I sit at night, watching the grainy, appalling Comic-Con footage on repeat on Youtube, muttering to myself “Patience, Fierman. Patience.” But I’m not going to lie: It doesn’t make things easier.
That’s the bad news. The good news is I’m still feeling like I got good value in the two and three slots. Prime Suspect’s ratings weren’t QUITE as bad as Playboy Club, but it’s clearly a smoking crater. And when your number three pick debuts with the headline: "Terra Nova Ratings: Not a Disaster (Yet)," you can go home happy, knowing that your scouting department did its job. So, I’m happy with my team. All I need is for the final pieces to fall into place. October 21 can’t get here fast enough.
Molly Lambert (The Magic Hours): Color me surprised that Unforgettable is doing pretty well. It has such a forgettable title and hook (she has hyperthymesia!), and I didn't realize there were any Poppy Montgomery stans out there. Last Man Standing has yet to debut, but I wouldn't be surprised if it opens big. You'll never go broke betting on Tim Allen. Speaking of broke, 2 Broke Girls is also something of a breakout hit, setting up its cupcake shop on CBS's front porch for the foreseeable future. which leaves The Secret Circle. Considering Smallville ran for ten years I can't imagine The CW would axe the teen genre show. Barring some very unpredictable twist (i.e. Last Man Standing is really about an angry dad raising his kids to be school shooters or The Secret Circle is about a gloryhole) I'm afraid my shows will all remain on the air for the entire season.
Chris Ryan (Remember the Terriers): After Up All Night premiered to a 3.7 rating with adults under 50 (a.k.a. people who weren't watching CBS), I walked into my bathroom, stood in front of the mirror and reenacted the "F-You" scene from 25th Hour.
Seriously, why can't I have nice things? I passed on the three legged dog that is Free Agents because, and I'm paraphrasing myself, I didn't think Up All Night would work once the baby was no longer up all night? I thought Kathryn Hahn and Hammerin' Hank Azaria could carry a network television show?! Did I suffer some kind of massive head trauma before the draft? I feel like I need to check my bank account to make sure Greenwald didn't charge a bunch of Eddie Cibrian bobble-heads to my card.
With the success of Whitney (morally, I still feel fine with that pick) and the just-fine-for-the-CW Ringer, Remember The Terriers becomes a one-man team. How To Be A Gentleman! You are my Iverson! Charge, head down into the lane and get clotheslined by Anthony Mason! I know you can do it!
Lane Brown (The Viva Laughlins): Barring some spectacular nosedive — for Suburgatory ("ABC’s biggest [Wednesday] comedy debut in eight years!"), Pan Am ("a ... promising new drama!"), or Revenge ("off to a strong start!") — it seems likely that all of my currently airing shows will live to see sweeps. But since none of us can see the future (except for maybe Andy Greenwald, who's been hastening his own shows' cancellations with negative reviews while propping up mine with mixed-positives), I'm not going to count my team out yet. A few reasons for optimism: Revenge's ratings fell 18 percent in the show's second week. And for all its promise and promotion, Pan Am is still expensive and needs more than "solid" ratings to get a full-season pickup. Also, it turns out I sort of like Suburgatory, so I actually hope it stays a hit. Plus, at least I don't have the Tim Allen show.
Andy Greenwald is an author and screenwriter in New York. He covers pop culture for Grantland.