TV jury finds in favour of FX OJ drama

Andy Fry
By Andy Fry
February 5, 2016

Hit & Miss
Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson
Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson

Pre-transmission reviews suggested US cable network FX might be on to a winner with its new anthology series The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, and that hunch has now been borne out with episode one of the true-life crime drama attracting 5.1 million viewers.

That’s a huge figure for a cable drama and one that includes a high percentage of 18- to 49-year-olds. Possibly we can attribute some of that figure to heavyweight marketing by FX. But the fact the show also generated a 9.1 rating on IMDb suggests there is enough audience appreciation to help it keep up its momentum.

To put the show’s performance into perspective, it is the highest debut ever for FX – beating The Shield’s premiere in 2002. It’s also almost double the audience that tuned in for the premiere of Fargo in 2014. While it is a bit premature to talk about renewal, there are enough highly charged legal cases in recent US history to suggest American Crime Story could run for years.

One other network that will be happy is BBC2 in the UK, which has acquired the show for a mid-February transmission. If the series does as well in the UK as it is doing in the US, it will be another feather in the cap of Sue Deeks, BBC head of programme acquisitions, who has also played a large part in bringing Nordic Noir to the English-speaking world.

Deeks described the The People vs OJ Simpson “a fascinating and totally absorbing dramatisation of a case seared into the public consciousness. It is a case you might think you know all about – but believe me, you don’t know the half of it.”

The return of The X-Files has proved enormously popular around the world
The return of The X-Files has proved enormously popular around the world

The success of the FX show is the second good piece of news for the Fox family after a strong start for Fox’s reboot of Chris Carter’s The X-Files. Episode three of that six-part show has dropped a bit to 8.37 million viewers but this still represents a strong performance.

During the week, Fox also released figures showing that The X-Files has been a hit on the international market. Premiering within 24 hours of the US launch across 80 countries, the show attracted more than 50 million viewers, which Fox calls a “new ratings records in multiple markets.”

Among the highlights from that international performance, Fox says The X-Files matched or surpassed the season six premiere of The Walking Dead in several Latin American countries including Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. Across 11 European Fox markets, the episode one premiere was seen by more than 2.5 million viewers, with an average audience of 1.7 million. In Canada, the show debuted as the most watched series premiere of the 2015/16 season with 2.4 million viewers on Sunday January 24. With premieres still to come in the UK, Germany, France, Australia and India, Fox expects the total worldwide audience to grow considerably from its current level.

Still in the US, NBC has this week decided to renew Law & Order: SVU for an 18th season and Chicago Med for a second. With Chicago Fire and Chicago PD already renewed, this means veteran showrunner Dick Wolf now has an incredible four scripted series up and running on the network.

Chigaco Med, one of four Dick Wolf procedurals airing on NBC
Chigaco Med is one of four Dick Wolf procedurals currently airing on NBC

At a time when the industry is supposed to be short of good procedurals, Wolf’s shows occupy four of the top five slots on NBC in terms of drama ratings for 2015/2016. With audiences ranging from 6.8 million to 8.2 million per episode across the four shows, only Blindspot is outperforming Wolf’s portfolio of dramas.

Sticking with NBC for a moment, one show that does seem to be on its way out is Grimm, which is now part way through its fifth season. For much of this season, the show has been pulling in an audience of around 3.6 million to 3.8 million, which is down on the last couple of seasons. With enough episodes in the bag for the show to succeed in syndication – and the Wolf dramas taking up a large piece of network real estate – NBC really needs to cancel Grimm in the name of creative renewal. Until now, NBC has hedged its bets – pointing out that Grimm sells well overseas and is also strong in terms of delayed viewing. But it would be a surprise if the show came back for season six.

Another show that must be a candidate for cancellation is ABC’s reboot of The Muppets, which has been in freefall since its debut last September. After starting with nine million viewers, it was down to 3.8 million by December 8, at which point it took a mid-season break. The show underwent a bit of a revamp over winter in order to take it closer to its fun-loving roots. But an audience of 2.75 million for its February 2 episode suggests viewers have given up on the series. Assume The Muppets will be cancelled and then revived as a movie in a few years.

James Nesbitt in Stan Lee's Lucky Man, which airs on Sky1
James Nesbitt in Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, which has opened strongly on Sky1

In the UK, pay TV channel Sky1 got off to a very strong start with its new series Spike Lee’s Lucky Man, which stars James Nesbitt. BARB figures for the week of January 18 to 24 show that the production attracted 1.6 million viewers (seven-day figure). This puts Lucky Man up alongside popular US imports like The Flash. As always, the acid test will be how the show stands up over the next couple of weeks. To put it in context, Supergirl started at about the same level on Sky 1 but by mid-season had shed half its audience.

Still with Sky, there are reports this week that Dennis Quaid is joining the cast of Sky Atlantic drama Fortitude for season two. This is likely to give the show a ratings boost in its early episodes. Last year, the pre-launch marketing campaign for Fortitude made much of the fact that the show starred Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon and Christopher Eccleston. This undoubtedly encouraged new audiences to sample Sky Atlantic. The only thing Quaid needs to be wary of is that – spoiler alert – all the big-name stars ended up dead last season (Eccleston almost before he opened his mouth). So he’ll need to watch his back.

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