There is a popular belief in television that most TV shows experience a creative lull in their second season, which gave rise to the phrase “sophomore slump.” Accordingly, many TV shows have been cited as examples of shows, which knocked it out of the park creatively in their first season, to only fall prey to a period of sluggishness in their second year. Many reasons are attributed to this second season curse, everything from writer’s block to actor fatigue to fan restlessness.
But looking specifically at the CW series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, I want to propose a few reasons why the show has suffered significantly in its ratings in its second season:
Moving Show to New Night/Timeslot
Perhaps, first and foremost, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST suffered from being moved from the plum primetime timeslot of Thursdays at 9:00 p.m., right behind the CW’s top television show THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. Because BEAUTY AND THE BEAST had the privilege of getting such a prime timeslot for its freshman season, it never had to fight for viewers the same way it did in its second season. For its first year, it competed against GREY’S ANATOMY and PERSON OF INTEREST. These shows did not exactly compete for the same viewers, as BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was a strong genre series with genetically created beasts and a strong romance theme.
However, in its second season, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was moved to Mondays at 9:00 p.m., following the CW series HART OF DIXIE. There may have been a misconception that HART OF DIXIE and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST both catered to the same viewing audience since both relied heavily on romance for their stories. But who could have foreseen that HART OF DIXIE would change its creative format so dramatically in its third season, steering away from the romance stories, and focusing more on its comedy storylines? Having a mis-matched pair of television shows significantly hurt viewership for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
In addition, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was directly competing with the new fantasy genre series SLEEPY HOLLOW, which offered not only a rich supernatural world of stories, but also a strong undercurrent of romance between its lead characters.
So the new night and new competition was first and foremost one of the biggest reasons that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST suffered in the ratings from the get-go of the Fall 2013 season.
Loss of Vision
Another distinct handicap on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was spoilers had trickled out that the lead character Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan) had his memory-wiped and did not remember his grand love-affair with Detective Catherine Chandler (Kristin Kreuk). One of the strongest appeals of the first season of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST had been its core romance. From the second Vincent and Catherine met there was an undeniable pull of attraction and that led to a swoon-worthy romance that ran throughout its first season. To have that romance stripped away from the outset of the second season, left the fans wondering where the show was going.
In addition, Vincent Keller came back a different man. He was not just without his memories, he seemed to be a killing machine. The soulful hero of the first season was unrecognizable. The writers had chosen to erase the pivotal parts of both the show and the character that fans had fallen in love with. It was supposed to be a storytelling reset, but instead it seemed to have gutted the show of the very essence of what the fans had fallen in love with – and their reason for tuning in.
What seemed like a strong creative decision for the writers to sustain a new story arc for the second season was seen more as a betrayal and too extreme a deviation from the story/characters that the loyal fans had committed to in the first season. It was a huge loss of vision from what the show was initially and as a result audience-retention evaporated.
Loss Of Hero
One of the key elements to success to any television show is its hero. In BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, it had two strong heroes: Vincent and Catherine. These were the characters that fans fell in love with and rooted for devotedly and with every breath they took during the first season.
Yet in the second season, both Catherine and Vincent were nearly unrecognizable versions of the characters. Vincent had no memory of who he was and Catherine had forsaken much of her identity in devoting her life to searching for Vincent, and once she found him, he was not the man she had fallen in love with either.
It can be argued that both Vincent and Catherine fought to get back their prior strength and the qualities that fans loved from Season 1; but as Season 2 continued, even the small steps back to being the characters fans knew from the prior season seemed to erode before their eyes. Vincent regained his memories, yet willingly chose to embrace his inner beast and struck up an out-of-the-blue relationship with another woman who also shared an inner-beast. Then Catherine, having located Vincent and having helped him recover what memories of his former life he could, discovered he was still an entirely different man and one who was more beast than man – and one who wanted to embrace his beastly nature. So Catherine reacted in a way that seemed untrue to her nature as well: she turned to the nearest available male who had been pining for her and entered into a clear rebound relationship. Neither Vincent or Catherine were acting in ways that the fans found recognizable. For thirteen-plus episodes, the heroes had become less heroic and more damaged, making choices that alienated the fans.
That left literally no hero to root for.
Collapse Of Love Triangle
Another critical aspect to any TV show founded on a strong romance is the need for a strong love-triangle. In Season 1 of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, that was answered by Catherine falling for Vincent, with Evan (Max Brown) hovering around hoping for a chance to swoop Catherine off her feet. Season 1 carried the love-triangle perfectly until Evan gave his life to protect everyone. It was a heroic and noble death. Plus, Evan always knew his place; he knew that a future with Cat was unlikely, but he always hoped. His unrequited love was the perfect touch for the classic love-triangle.
Yet in Season 2, the series offered as the new unrequited love the character of Gabe Lowen (Sendhil Ramamurthy), a reformed villain who had tried to kill Vincent in the first season. Unfortunately, Catherine had saved his life and he felt indebted to her and then he also fell in love with her. Worse yet, no one really ever bought into the idea of Gabe as a possible love interest for Catherine. No one could forget his villainous nature and crimes of the first season. His eager efforts to rehabilitate his image in Catherine’s eyes only made him look like he was hiding something more. So when Catherine finally decided to give Gabe a chance, fans were literally screaming at their television sets in agony and frustration. Maybe Gabe’s heart was true, or it was written to be that way, but fans just did not buy it. He would always be viewed with suspicion and as undeserving in their eyes.
It only served to weaken the fans’ faith in Catherine as a hero when she made such a poor romantic choice; particularly as it was at a critical juncture when Vincent was struggling to put aside his beast nature and choose to be more human again.
For the entire second season, the love-triangle has floundered and only felt off-putting. Every good television romance needs a viable love-triangle candidate, not one that it foist upon the audience who will never buy it in a million years. Unfortunately for Gabe, his character could die today and fans would not grieve his absence. He looks like a sad opportunist, and not a someone worthy of the heroine’s love.
Just like the move to a new night with a new pairing hurt BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, likewise DVR time-shifting significantly hurt the ratings for the show. Fans were not turning in to watch the show “live.” They were recording it on their DVRs or streaming it at a later date and time. Maybe they were not inclined to watch a romance Monday nights at 9 pm, or maybe they were watching SLEEPY HOLLOW (or one of the other competing TV shows airing at the same time). Whatever the reason, fans did not feel the need to watch “live” anymore. In Season 1, fans were breathless with anticipation and watched every episode “live” unable to wait one more second. In Season 2, fans for a variety of reasons, opted to watch BEAUTY AND THE BEAST later in the week. The DVR ratings were substantial, but that hurt the show in advertising revenue which is significantly higher for “live” viewers versus viewers watching on DVR days later.
Finally, the final nail in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’s coffin during its sophomore slump has been the negative reaction of the fans. Not only on social media, but as reflected by those who simply check-out and never checked back in, the Season 1 fans simply never came back or fell-off with each episode that aired in Season 2.
One thing a television can never do is disappoint its fans. Once lost, those fans never come back. They cannot be wooed by enticing promos or even positive word of mouth. Once the line has been crossed, they just move on to other shows – or obsessively rewatch Season 1 on DVD aching for the good ole days.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST faltered greatly in its second season. It is not attributable to just one factor, but many. But it also serves as a great reminder as to how easy it is to kill a successful television show. Writers and showrunners have to always remember that viewers vote with their remote control, they just turn the channel when they are dissatisfied.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is not dead yet, but with its final episode airing this Monday night before going on extended hiatus with no firm return date for its final six episodes of its second season, its fate seems dubious. Despite the efforts of the more committed fans (those who are still watching), BEAUTY AND THE BEAST has suffered a huge retention loss. It is unlikely to ever make up what it has lost, even with a two-month break to give its fans time to experience the “absence makes the heart grow fonder” longing.
While BEAUTY AND THE BEAST conceivably could be renewed for a third season depending on what timeslots are available on the CW’s Fall 2014 broadcast schedule, the huge loss of viewership makes that hard to imagine it as a viable candidate to attract interested advertising dollars.
Dedicated fans may need to embrace their sense of faith and say a few prayers that a third season is a possibility. However, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is the perfect example of a television show that succumbed to the sophomore slump. Let’s hope this is not its death knell.