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Sophomore Slumps Sack Last Year’s Brightest Hits

by Devon Thomas  |  11.03.2016

Being a brand new TV series is hard enough, but maintaining interest and freshness in a show’s second season can oftentimes be daunting. As was the case for last year’s breakout shows Blindspot, Quantico and Mr. Robot, all of which are now experiencing a “sophomore slump.”

Adweek reports that neither NBC’s Blindspot nor ABC’s Quantico, two of last year’s biggest successes, have managed to grow their audiences in year two. . Blindspot, which averaged a 1.8 in the adults 18-49 demo last year, is off 30 percent, averaging a 1.3. Much of its ratings dip has been attributed to NBC moving Blindspot from its cozy post-Voice time slot on Mondays to Wednesdays at 8 p.m., when it is up against Fox’s breakout hit Lethal Weapon. Over at ABC, Quantico was the Disney network’s most promising freshman series but now is the network’s lowest-rated scripted series in the demo.

Meanwhile, it was a cruel summer this year for last summer’s biggest critical hits, USA’s Mr. Robot and Lifetime’s UnReal. Adweek reported that both faced significant backlash when they returned this summer for their second seasons. Both failed to match the critical acclaim they received in their first seasons, and faced ratings declines.

Even Fox’s Empire, which was one of the biggest broadcast successes in a decade during its first season in early 2015, fell victim.

“Season 2 was hard,” showrunner Ilene Chaiken told Adweek. “In some ways, harder, because we had to find ourselves again.”

The guest-star-heavy start to Season 2 (Chris Rock, Ludacris and Pitbull were among the celebs who popped up on the show) led to a backlash, but Empire regained its footing later in the season, returning its focus to the core family.

“The great thing about season 2 is that if you do survive it, you come into season 3 better than ever, and that’s where we are,” Chaiken told the magazine. While Empire isn’t the monster hit it was a year and a half ago, it remains the top-rated scripted broadcast series in the 18-49 demo.

However, the sophomore slump does not destroy all shows, and some can even come back stronger than ever. For instance, ABC’s Black-ish was one of the few shows last year to build on its freshman buzz. Ratings were down 22 percent from season one, but the show returned to greater critical acclaim and even Emmy nominations for its stars Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson.

Some writers and producers feel the solution to the sophomore slump is to focus on making great television and let the viewers and the accolades rise over time.

“That’s what I wanted to do in the third season,” said Pete Nowalk (creator of ABC’s How To Get Away with Murder) about his pitfalls in his show’s second season. “Just try to chill out and just be like, maybe in 10 years, someone is going to watch this, so don’t write it for the hype now or trying to prove too much. I probably tried to do that [before]: ‘I swear, we have more story left!’”

READ MORE: Adweek

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