After it lost more than half its viewers from the first to the second episode, Fox is admirably standing behind its ambitious reality series Utopia, doing everything ABC should be doing with The Quest. However, I also think the network misunderstands why viewers fled the show.
More than half of young viewers 18 to 49 bailed between Sunday’s episode and Tuesday’s episode. Sunday’s episode was likely helped by having football as a lead-in; Tuesday’s episode was probably hurt by having Big Brother as a timeslot competitor. Still, it’s bad: if Tuesday’s episode was treated as the premiere, it tied (with NBC’s School Pride) for the lowest debut for a broadcast TV series ever.
Worse, the show lost viewers during the broadcast, which also happened Sunday. I may just be searching for evidence to validate my own theory, but that suggests to me that the cast’s aggressiveness, violence, and explosive, unjustified anger was not attractive to mass audiences. While the editing may be to blame for excising build-up, watching an adult throw a violent temper-tantrum and smash cans of food because he doesn’t get his way is a waste of the format. Everything about the show is top-notch, from the concept to the execution; only the casting has failed.
As to the network’s reaction to the ratings, Fox Entertainment chair Dana Waldron told The Wrap:
“We like the show a lot. It’s an ambitious idea. It’s a show that feels familiar but had a great unconventional twist. There’s an aspirational feel to it. But, we launched it really early, maybe before viewers were ready for a new fall show. … No one thought we were going to launch a huge ratings juggernaut, but with patience it will grow and we’re going to have patience.”
Again, I appreciate the patience and commitment to the concept, but I don’t think it will grow. And I cannot imagine that launching it later, when there are more new shows and competition, would have attracted a larger audience.
Fox’s smart decision to air live feeds early and smartly promote the show on social media brought a decent audience to its premiere, but the decision to cast people for conflict instead of a genuine interest in forming a new society did turn some viewers off. No amount of patience will change that, unless the cast gets changed out sooner than later.