ABC's 'Forever' tries to make its title ring true, or close

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Posted: Feb 02, 2015 2:26 PM
ABC's 'Forever' tries to make its title ring true, or close

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Matthew Miller, creator of ABC's freshman drama "Forever," is used to the industry ritual of anxiously checking a show's ratings the morning after it airs.

These days, Miller also braces himself for the measure of viewers who waited up to three days to watch his 10 p.m. EST Tuesday series via DVR or other means, such as video on demand. He faces the numbers once more for those who dallied a full week before hitting "play."

But the prolonged fretting pays off for "Forever."

The fantasy crime drama has struggled to draw an audience during its initial broadcast, the so-called live airing, but ratings for subsequent viewings jump so markedly that ABC gave it a full-season order.

The hope is that more viewers will be compelled to tune in the first time around, the choice that really pays off for a network and its affiliates.

"Even if you wake up on Wednesday morning and the number is low, you have so many chances for people to catch up and watch the show. The dream is still alive," Miller said, partly tongue-in-cheek.

He's dead serious, however, when he says it would be "devastating" if that delayed viewership wasn't being taken into consideration.

"Forever" stars Ioan Gruffudd as Dr. Henry Morgan, a New York City medical examiner who's really good at his job, in part, because he's more than 200 years old, unhappily and inexplicably immortal.

He solves criminal cases with police Detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza), while trying to resolve his own mystery. Judd Hirsch co-stars as the friend who knows Henry's secret and is part of another: He's Henry's adopted son.

The series is benefiting from the TV industry's relatively recent adoption of a wider take on viewing habits, with a range of Nielsen company ratings available from live to live plus seven days.

Live viewing is the industry's first choice because it's more likely to expose viewers to commercials. But time-shifted viewing can signal a show worth supporting, particularly one in prime time's highly competitive final hour, said ABC executive Andy Kubitz.

The ratings for recorded shows watched in the 10 p.m.-11 p.m. hour exceed that of all the networks combined as viewers use it to catch up on the earlier programs, said Kubitz, ABC Entertainment's executive vice president for programming, planning and scheduling.

The significant playback ratings for "Forever," combined with other factors, showed that it deserved a full season to prove itself, he said.

In the live-plus-three days measure, the drama ranks No. 2 (just edged out by CW's "Vampire Diaries") with viewership increasing from about 5 million to nearly 8 million. And the live numbers, while relatively low, are nearly double ABC's performance last year in the time period.

Cable series with big gains in time-shifting include AMC's "The Walking Dead," which in 2014 saw its 9.6 million weekly audience more than double in live-plus-seven ratings, and HBO's "Game of Thrones," according to Nielsen.

ABC has introduced a number of atypical shows this season, including sitcoms focused on ethnic families ("blackish" and "Fresh Off the Boat"). "Forever" doesn't qualify as a rarity, but it does offer a twist on the police procedural.

"It's so hard to launch shows nowadays that once you see a little bit of life — and we saw there was interest in this type of show — you just try to feed into that, and we're blowing on the embers at this point," Kubitz said.

For prospective viewers reluctant to invest in yet another show with a complex "mythology" at its core, Miller offers an assurance that the majority of episodes focuses on a self-contained story about the crime of the week interwoven with Henry's plight of life unending.

All that, and for just an hour's worth of your time. Or, on DVR minus commercials, about 45 minutes.

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Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber@ap.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber .

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