We all have those favorite shows that have lived long past their initial shelf life. You know what I’m talking about: That sitcom that’s rehashing the same tired jokes season after season or that drama with barely any of the original characters left that airs insane episodes about alien babies. Sometimes networks just need to know when to pull the plug. But how can they figure it all out?
Let’s first note: We’re not talking about shows that should be canceled because they are simply terrible. (I’m glad I’ll never know definitively if Chelsea is there or not.) This handy dandy formula that will let math decide when one of our favorite shows should be taken off the air. Just like a flux capacitor, this is science, people. For your cheat sheets:
First we take the number of main characters or original actors that have left the series and add it to the ratings decline in millions. For example, if a show’s highest season average was 20 million viewers and the current season averages 18 million, that is a decline of 2 million. For our formula, we will just use the whole number (2). A show also earns 10 points if it has changed time slots, which is usually a sign that something is going wrong or it is no longer as valuable as it used to be so is moved off somewhere less desirable. A show earns another 10 points if it has included any of the following storylines: amnesia, a serial killer, a natural disaster that destroys the setting of the show, babies switched at birth, a vow renewal, a couple that gets married then divorced then married again, a kidnapping, the main family on the show getting a new baby or other surprise pregnancies (where the baby is not given up for adoption), a main character being paralyzed, a diagnoses of cancer (unless it is a medical drama or The Big C or the awesomeness that is Breaking Bad), or a situation in which every cast member has slept with everyone else. A show earns an additional 10 points if there has been three or more of these stories. If a show has all of them, then it is Nip/Tuck, which has already been cancelled. We take the total of all these and multiply them by the number of seasons it has been on the air. If the number is 100 or greater, it should get the axe.
Let’s see how this applies to some shows that are currently on the air. Let’s start with The Office. It has lost one main character (Michael Scott). Its ratings have declined 1.3 million from their all-time high. It has stayed in the same time slot… but it had a serial killer. It has been on the air for nine seasons. Its formula: (1 + 1.3 + 0 + 10) X 9 = 110.7. Sorry, The Office, but you should have done your final mockumentary interview.
What about that crippled old beast Gossip Girl? It has lost three main characters (Jennie, Vanessa, and Eric), its ratings have declined .71 million, it has changed time slots, and everyone on the show has slept with each other. It has been on for five seasons. That means (3 + .71 + 10 + 10) X 5 = 118.55. Yes, Serena, it’s time to pack it up and go to the great rehab facility in the sky.
The formula, naturally, can tell you if a show is vital or not. Let’s look at Game of Thrones, which is clearly in its prime. It has lost two main characters (Ned and Khal Drogo). Its ratings have gone up .8 million from last season (which will reflect as a negative number because the show exhibits the opposite of decline). It has not changed time slots and has, so far, not exhibited any of the troublesome storylines (though dragons and a smog monster may count as disruptive babies). That means the show gets (2 + -.8 + 0 + 0) X 2 = 2.4. That is a long way from 100. Looks like we’ll be visiting Westeros for at least a few more years.
It also works with reality television programs! Let’s look at that hobbling juggernaut American Idol. It lost three original cast members (Paula, Simon, and Brian Dunkleman), has dropped 15.51 in the ratings (yowza!), and it has changed time slots. However, being a reality show, it hasn’t had any of the ridiculous plots. It has been on 11 seasons. Its formula is (3 + 15.51 + 10 + 0) X 11 = 313.61. According to both math and science, that means J. Lo should start looking for a new gig.
What about a show that was on the bubble, like Cougar Town? It has lost no characters, was down 2.46 million viewers, had changed time slots, but had no crazy stories (and was stuck with a s**tty name). It was on for three seasons. That makes the formula (0 + 2.46 + 10 + 0) X 3 = 37.38. Looks like TBS made a smart decision picking up the show from ABC.
There you have it, kids. Math is fun! How does the formula work with your favorites?
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan