This is the time of year when I have traditionally asked myself: why haven’t I learned? In years past, I would watch several new fall programs, and inevitably, the majority would end up cancelled. You’d think I would learn not to watch new network shows. But in 2009, I had a break: The Good Wife, The Middle, and V were all renewed for a second season (V, however, was cancelled in its second season). In 2010, I was in Scotland during the fall, so I didn’t watch any new programs. I thought my days of getting hooked on a new show and steadily watching its ratings decline before it was pulled off the air were over. But I was wrong – because, this year, I decided to start watching Pan Am.
I wasn’t going to watch Pan Am. I knew that, as a period piece, it was a risky move for ABC. The promotional spots for it screamed, “Look at us! We’re so glamorous,” making it seem like a show that I wouldn’t enjoy. Its premiere came and went, and I saw that it had decent ratings (a 3.1 in A18-49). Then two people I know told me that they enjoyed it, and I considered giving it a shot. Then one day, my quidditch team (yes, it’s a real sport) suffered a bad loss, and I was looking for a pick me up. So I went to abc.com and watched the pilot of Pan Am. And you know what? For one hour, it took me to another world.
Then the second episode rolled around, and I enjoyed it enough, thinking that, though it suffered a bit from typical second episode syndrome, it was still a wonderful little escape. And then the ratings came in: a harsh drop to a 2.5 in A18-49. Even though this was adjusted up to a 2.6 in the final numbers, it was unsettling, and I began to wonder if my days of fretting about television ratings were going to come back.
The ratings for the third episode only confirmed this fear: a 1.9 in A18-49, and this time, it wasn’t even adjusted up to a 2.0. A 1.9 puts Pan Am in very real danger of cancellation if it doesn’t reverse this downward trend in the coming weeks.
So Pan Am is suffering in the Nielsen ratings, but everyone knows that this system is very flawed. There are 5,100 people with Nielsen boxes, and these people basically get to determine what the rest of the country watches. And still, it only matters what these people watch live. DVR numbers can only help so much because advertisers don’t like it when people skip commercials. Hulu, iTunes, and the like are hardly considered. Unfortunately, Pan Am is doing well in these other ways. Its premiere episode saw a 1.0 increase in Live+7 DVR ratings (people who watch the show on their DVR within a week of its airing), scoring a 4.1 in A18-49. And as of Monday, its third episode was ranked second on the iTunes TV charts. Clearly, people are watching the show, just not live.
And then there’s the issue of actually watching it live. It’s on Sundays, which, in the fall, are notoriously jumbled by football. NBC airs football the whole evening, taking away eyeballs from shows that could use them. CBS shows football for part of the evening, leadings its Sunday programs to be moved back often by as much as a half-hour on the east coast. For example, east coast viewers who enjoy The Good Wife and Pan Am (and, from reading online comments, I’ve deduced that there are a fair few) are forced to choose between the two when The Good Wife airs from 9:30 to 10:30, instead of being able to watch them back-to-back, as their west coast compatriots can.
All of these factors, however, hardly matter. If Pan Am doesn’t increase in Nielsen ratings soon, ABC will have no choice but to cancel it. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t understand how television ratings work because it’s frustrating to see this happen and know that nothing can be done. This experience with Pan Am has been flashing me back to Commander in Chief, The Nine, Journeyman, and Kings, all of which were my favorite new shows of the year before they were unceremoniously pulled from the primetime lineups. Whatever happens, I will try to enjoy the time Pan Am has left. This past weekend was very hectic for me, and when 10:00p.m. Sunday came around, I was ready for something fun. And Pan Am was there to put a smile on my face, ending this crazy weekend on a high note. Hopefully, it can stick around to continue being a little gem at the end of the weekend, but unfortunately, I’m not holding my breath.