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NBC Canceled 'Harry's Law' For the Crime of Skewing 'Old'
May 17, 2012  | By Ed Bark  | 12 comments

Racism, sexism, ageism.

No TV network worries in the least about being accused of the latter. And there's really no upside for a TV critic to upbraid NBC for canceling one of its very few hits, Harry's Law, because it didn't appeal to the "right" audience.

I run the risk of being perceived as terminally addled, a veritable Gabby Hayes (dated reference), Ward Cleaver (dated reference) or Red Foreman (halfway current reference to That '70s Show) amid a sea of Community-slobbering coolios.

But what do I care? I'm freakin' 64. And in truth I rarely watched Harry's Law during its truncated 33-episode run on NBC, which tried to bury the David E. Kelley law drama from the start but still couldn't hide it from all of those fans of a certain age.

Harry's ended up averaging 8.9 million viewers per episode before the ax swung. That's a haul exceeded by only three NBC series this season — Sunday Night Football, The Voice and Smash, which had barely more viewers (9 million) and likely will drop to Harry's level after Monday's Season 1 finale audience of just 6.1 million is factored in.

NBC's overall prime-time average this season is 7.4 million viewers, and that's with the Super Bowl factored in. In other words, Harry's exceeded that average by 1.5 million viewers, which is no small number given the broadcast networks' ongoing battles against year-to-year viewer erosion.

Two of the Peacock's renewals for next season, Community and Rock Center with Brian Williams, averaged a piddling 4 million viewers an episode, making Harry's a virtual Gulliver among Lilliputians.

Other NBC renewals dwarfed by Harry's included Parks and Recreation (4.4 million viewers an episode); 30 Rock (4.6 million); Fashion Star (4.9 million); Whitney (5.1 million); Up All Night (5.3 million); Grimm (6.3 million); The Office (6.4 million); Parenthood (6.7 million) and even Law & Order: SVU (7.6 million).

The weekly crowd for Harry's also easily exceeded ABC's 8.4 million season-to-date average and matched Fox's.

But in the only audience estimate networks care about, Harry's was kissed off as a veritable liver-spotted guy named Hiram at the Teen Choice Awards. That would be advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds, and Harry averaged a piddling 1.8 million of those "desirable" viewers. Only Rock Center fared worse among NBC series, with 1.2 million viewers per week in this age group.

Community, which had well less than half the total viewership of Harry's, nonetheless drew 2.4 million viewers in the 18-to-49 demographic. Some advertisers pay a little extra "premium" for that audience, even though that makes little sense (or cents) anymore.

Community, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Up All Night are all considered "smart" praiseworthy shows by most TV critics. And I wouldn't really argue with that.

But don't the old folks at home deserve at least one show they can call their own, particularly on a network that's still starved for viewers of any age except on Sunday nights during football season? Has Madison Avenue made a lapdog of every network except CBS?

Even The Voice is already tailing off. And Fashion Star, with its skimpy 2.3 million 18-to-49-year-olds per episode, was picked up only because it's basically an infomercial for the featured department stores that greatly help to pay its production costs. The show is otherwise worthless from a content standpoint. Kathy Bates' Harriet "Harry" Korn would look at these people and say, "I oughta belt you posers in the head with my three-pound JCPenney purse." And I wish she would.

No other industry except television really works this way. A senior citizen's money counts just as much at the box office as Snooki Ipod's does. Restaurant patrons aren't shown the door because they look too old. On the contrary, they're often prized for being better tippers with more disposable income.

Older people vote for their elected officials in greater numbers than younger people do. And their votes count exactly the same. And so on. If you're a young adult, who'd you rather get a birthday gift from — rich old Uncle Groucho or your slacker friend, Peabo Penniless?

The Big Four broadcast networks — NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox — are supposed to be public trusts operating in the public interest. Except that a huge slice of this country is of no interest at all to them. There oughta be a law (dated reference).

The cancellation of Harry's Law — and the disenfranchisement of most of its 8.9 million viewers — will end up being of no concern at all to lawmakers who'd rather rail against sex and violence. Ditto most of my TV critic colleagues, who don't want to look as though they're suddenly sprouting ear hair. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Once upon a time, at the end of the 1995-'96 TV season, NBC canceled JAG despite the military drama's overall decent ratings in its first season. Its crime? It skewed too old.

CBS snapped it up, ran JAG for nine more seasons and used it to launch a little spinoff called NCIS. That series, still a ratings kingpin, spawned the very successful NCIS: Los Angeles. So 16 years later, CBS is still laughing at NBC's all-time demographic malaprop. Laughing all the way to the bank and the untold millions that those three series have made for their network.

Harry's Law likely won't find a benefactor. Although if I were CBS I'd slap it onto my Friday night schedule as a compatible lead-in to the network's skew-old Blue Bloods. It's already been renewed despite the fact that of its 12.2 million viewers per episode, only a scant 2.6 million are in the 18-to-49 range.

But CBS isn't NBC, even though previous Peacock executives have chided CBS for its lineup of series appealing to viewers "north of Forest Lawn."

CBS has a nice mix now. Its weekly average of 18-to-49-year-old viewers is more than 600,000 ahead of NBC's. And in total viewers, CBS is more than 4.3 million better than the Peacock. It's a far more balanced approach in which series drawing a high percentage of older viewers aren't automatically measured for a coffin.

NBC didn't commit a crime by canceling Harry's Law. Still, the network is lesser for it. Dealing out the show's legions of older viewers may make for some dry, smug humor in NBC's executive offices. But it wasn't the right thing to do on the part of a network that symbolically pitted The Biggest Loser against NCIS in the past season.

Now that's funny.

Read more by Ed Bark at unclebarky.com

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100% Agreed!!!!!!
Oct 10, 2022   |  Reply
Kate C
This is the same network that renewed the insulting "Off Their Rockers!" Shows you just what they think of us, doesn't it?
Jun 2, 2012   |  Reply
Well we are a family of 4, all within the targeted demographic and were NOT counted obviously. We LOVE Harry's Law but now that NBC found my viewership unworthy of their corporate inferior money, I will take my worthless demographic butt to another network with my useless cash and not look for anything Peacock related. NBC you have lost a household for good...way to go!!!
May 28, 2012   |  Reply
Forgot to mention there is a campaign to Save Harry's Law on Facebook, PLEASE JOIN and show your support.
May 28, 2012
Well, I'm 47 and love Harry's Law. The thing I find frustrating is the networks constantly changing schedules. I know I can watch on demand, but I for no particular reason don't, except for Mad Men which almost always requires a second viewing. Whatevs NBC, my 13 and 15 year old boys liked all the hotties on Harry's Law, so there.
May 27, 2012   |  Reply
Yes, us "oldsters" are out again on a great show. When will someone wise-up and understand that we can still work the remote too? Harry's Law is a wonderful show-great story and acting-how do you get better than Kathy Bates. It is so sad that the entire country must cater to the young. Hopefully some network will pick the show up and cater, for once, to the young at heart!
May 27, 2012   |  Reply
Frank Dracman
I am also over 60 and I did watch Harry's Law from the beginning; I embraced the changes as every "dirty old man" should have: more hot women! But seriously, if the ratings were so high but the demographics weren't what the programmers wanted, it seems to me the people in sales missed the opportunity to capitalize on the folks with all that disposable income. They should have actively sought sponsors like the ones that are seen on "60 Minutes"...interesting and intelligent ads for upscale products. I personally, don't eat macaroni and cheese, but I do have a home theater that I am planning to upgrade. Do the math!
May 22, 2012   |  Reply
The "disposable income" argument should be gaining weight, but apparently isn't. CBS tried for several years in the 1990s to sell Madison Ave. on the value of older viewers, but failed in large part. Still, CBS remains the last broadcast network haven for shows of a "certain age."

What Mad. Ave. doesn't seem to realize or care about is that oldsters who came of age in the '60s are much more impulsive buyers than their forebears. And these days, they do tend to actually have money to spend. At least more so than their own offspring.

When you get down to it, "Harry's Law" has the same demographic as the network evening newscasts, which are a festival of ads for Gas X, various pain remedies and occasionally, luxury cars. So couldn't at least one prime-time show also carry that freight? On NBC, guess not.
May 29, 2012
Noooo! Not Harry's Law-- first Boston Legal, now Harry, two of the best shows ever written: witty, sharp, and funny, but a level of seriousness inviting serious discussion if you got into them. Guess it's only HBO that has the guts to stick with sharp drama.
May 22, 2012   |  Reply
Carol Talbeck
Worse than short-sighted. Baby-boomers - duh!
May 22, 2012   |  Reply
Don't give to many kudos to CBS. They did the same thing to "Murder She Wrote" From Wikipedia "CBS cited that Murder, She Wrote was "skewing too old" in the ratings demographics, as—while the series was still successful, having just finished the eleventh season as the eighth-most watched program on television" They then moved the show to Thursday nights where it had to compete with Friends and Seinfeld. It's ratings evaporated and the show was cancelled.
May 21, 2012   |  Reply
I agree with John. I didn't like it after the re-tooliong, and I've watched it only intermittently ever since. So I don't mind at all that it's cancelled, but I do think the reason for it is really too bad. After all, it's the older people who really have the most disposable income in this country--for the most part, anyway. Like Mark, I have a list of series that I wished hadn't been cancelled (and which I'm still trying to find on DVD: "Terriers," anyone?), but "Harry's Law" won't be one of them.
May 20, 2012   |  Reply
I didn't watch it much either. But you're right. It's the reasoning behind the cancellation that makes this something worth taking a stand on. NBC is hardly a House of Hits. In fact it's the polar opposite. So to dump "Harry's Law" on the basis of its demographics seems to make even less sense. It ended up tied with "Smash" as NBC's most popular scripted drama. But "Smash" will be back because it had the higher percentage of "desirable" viewers while "Harry's" didn't. If that's the way TV is gonna work from here on out, then let's get rid of all senators and reps. over the age of 50. Start a campaign to that effect, and all those granddads and grandmas in Washington will quickly pass a law making what NBC did illegal.
May 29, 2012
Yes, Jan, "Terriers" was wonderful, and I mourned its demise. Of course, I'm still grieving "Frank's Place" from... how many years ago?
May 20, 2012
Mark N
I'm 63 and I too started watching and felt the same as the previous poster...I wasn't gonna stay with it. So nothing about its cancellation mattered to me. But I was incensed when I read the why's and wherefore's of its demise. I frequently back good series that bad things happen to...the list is too long to enumerate and I'm sure its so for many of us. But this type ageist move threatens the status quo...they can can AND WILL cancel anything for any reason and TV watchers be damned!
May 19, 2012   |  Reply
I enjoyed "Harry's Law" when it first came on, but after the re-tooling I lost interest. Of course, I'm well past the young demographic, too, so it doesn't matter.
May 18, 2012   |  Reply
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