The website TV By the Numbers is making sport out of predicting which television series will survive or disappear. The Renew/Cancel Index is a popular feature, where all the broadcast networks' shows are given ratings from one (certain to be cancelled) to five (certain to be renewed).
Less than four weeks into the new season, CBS' "Made in Jersey" is swimming with the fishes, and NBC announced that the comedy "Animal Practice" will be out the door next month. That was one of six shows that the Renew/Cancel Index had given its dreaded single frowning face.
Gorman and partner Robert Seidman tweet about their predictions as "The Cancellation Bear." The name refers to the old joke about two men being chased by a bear; you don't have to be faster than the bear, just outrun the other guy.
The men, who started the site in 2007 to report news on television ratings, said people follow their favorite shows like they would sports teams, and are increasingly savvy about the business of entertainment.
"The difference between the shows and sports teams is, if the Yankees have a bad year, they're not going out of business," Gorman said.
Networks invest high hopes and a lot of money to make new series but inevitably most fail. Late October is a big decision-making time because networks must determine if they will pay for a full season's worth of shows and, if a program is doing poorly, quickly replace it with something that could pull in higher ratings during the November ratings sweeps.
Other series that the Cancellation Bear suggests not getting attached to are the CBS comedy "Partners," the ABC thriller "Last Resort" and creepy "666 Park Avenue," and NBC comedy "Up All Night."
Gorman, who started the site with Seidman after noticing there wasn't another blog that regularly discussed television ratings, said the numbers usually make their rankings clear.
Gorman said, "We're just stating the obvious, and the only reason we're unique is nobody else is stating the obvious."
The Cancellation Bear occasionally tweets with Kelly Kahl, the executive in charge of CBS' schedule. Kahl said the analyses provided by TV By the Numbers are generally more thorough than those he sees online. Their weakness is an over-reliance on the numbers without weighing many other factors that play into cancellation decisions, like whether a network has an ownership stake in a series.
The site and the networks don't have a contentious relationship. They wouldn't get the Nielsen ratings that their reporting is based upon unless people at the networks slipped the numbers to them.
They've missed some calls. Fox's "House" had the numbers to return, but the Bear didn't take into account increased costs of producing an older show, or the desire of its actors to continue, Gorman said.
"Two years ago, we thought 'Fringe' would get cancelled and we were subsequently proven wrong," Gorman said. "We were eviscerated by their crazy fans. We're a public forum and they descended on us like locusts."