A couple weeks ago, “How to Get Away with Murder” ended its second season at a series low rating. The finale brought in 5.29 million viewers and a 1.4 rating in the key 18-49 demographic. While that number might seem decent for a 10 p.m. drama in this day and age (in fact, it was the highest rated 10 p.m. show on ABC that week), when you compare it to its season one finale, it stops looking pretty. Last year, the finale of “Murder” earned 8.99 million viewers, and a 2.8 demo rating, which is double season two’s finale number.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it, a 50-percent drop year-to-year is awful. While there are other factors at play here, including a similar drop for its lead-in “Scandal” in the 9 p.m. slot, it seems like a good chunk of the audience has given up on “Murder.”

“Murder” ’s not alone. ABC’s lineup is populated with dramas that started well but faded over time. In its first season, “Once Upon a Time” averaged over a 3.0 in the key demo. The latest episodes have scored a 1.3, 1.3 and 1.1 in the key demo. “Castle” has also dropped substantially from prior seasons in both total viewers and the demo. Then, there’s the case of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which started out averaging above a 2.0 for the first half of its first season, but barely registered at a 0.9 demo rating this week.

The problem isn’t just at ABC either. “Supergirl” opened up to a strong, “Big Bang Theory”-driven 3.1 in the fall over at CBS. By episode five, the series was getting half that rating, settling in between a 1.3 and 1.8 depending on the week. The show lost about half its initial audience by the time it settled down. There’s also “The Muppets” on ABC, which opened to a solid audience of 9 million viewers and a 2.9 demo rating. However, by episode four, the show was only pulling low 1’s. After a hiatus where the show retooled and rebooted itself, the show opened to a 0.9 and only dropped during its winter run.

These are examples of a trend which is pervasive across broadcast television. Viewers have shown they’re willing to sample shows, but they’re not necessarily willing to stick around.

This is one of the hardest questions facing network executives today. What factors lead to viewers turning away from a show? How do you make your show a nice saute instead of a brief flash in the pan?

What I find to be a big driver of drops between seasons is something driven by the necessity of TV scheduling — the long break. A network TV series will make at most 24 episodes in a year, leaving a substantial amount of time without it airing. When shows like “Murder” or “Rosewood” drop upon returning from a long break, it’s an easy thing to point blame at. However, because serialized shows do not repeat well, this is still the best way to schedule dramas, despite the potential for dropping.

However, multiseason drops can also be associated with natural attrition. Pretty much every single show on TV suffers some sort of decline as they age. “NCIS,” for example, is averaging a 2.26 in the key demo, which is down substantially from the 4.0 it averaged just three years ago. This trend is probably one of the hardest to avoid, as there’s no way to stop time.

However, neither of those explain why new shows are suffering precipitous drops within a few episodes of their first airing, though it’s hard to come up with a general rule because of how individualized each case is. Take “The Muppets.” Its decline can be attributed to a pure audience rejection of its format, which featured a fighting Kermit and Miss Piggy and some more conventional sitcom elements. With “Supergirl,” it could be the superhero show didn’t mesh well with a CBS audience used to crime procedurals.

Yet, for everything in TV which points to a trend, there’s something which bucks the trend. And last season, nothing worked to destroy conventional wisdom in how TV works more than “Empire.” Much has been written about how the music industry drama grew each week in total viewers and almost every week in the demographic, ending up at 17.6 million viewers and a massive 6.9 in the demo. While the show’s second-season numbers have not reached that high, the series is still averaging 4.77 demo rating.

Not every show can be “Empire.” The series seems to be a special case where it caught on in a big way, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear way to prevent declines at the level of “How to Get Away with Murder” or “Scandal.” Networks have tried to be clever with scheduling or with formats to try to bring viewers in, but there’s no clear-cut way of keeping them once they arrive. 

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