ABC’s Narration Obsession

Of the 18 shows ABC premiered this fall, 9 have been narrated. ABC leads CBS, FOX, NBC, and CW with the most narrated shows, whether by a character within the show or by a third-person narrator.

Revenge, Forever, and Grey’s Anatomy are among ABC’s 3 narrated dramas, all mostly done by the lead characters. SelfieThe MiddleThe Goldbergs, and Black-ish are among ABC’s 4 comedies with main characters driving and transitioning between plots through narration. Manhattan Love Story, cancelled on Friday, had a “stream-of-consciousness” narration, hearing the thoughts of the two main characters. Modern Family has the mock-umentary style narration, with characters speaking to the camera, moving stories forward with exposition.

But the interesting pattern is ABC’s 9 narrated shows out-populates the other networks combined. All other networks have only 5 narrated shows total*: FOX’s Red Band Society, NBC’s A to Z & Parks and Recreation, and CW’s Jane the Virgin The Flash.

Revenge (ABC), among other narrated programs, are not doing so well. Does narration really hurt shows and networks more than they help? (Source: Hollywood Reporter)

But of course, I wouldn’t bring this up without a reason. Do narrated shows have an advantage over non-narrated shows? As of today, not very. Red Band Society is the worst-rated scripted FOX show this year and A to Z is the lowest-rated scripted NBC show of the year. 2 of ABC’s 3 narrated dramas are the lowest-rated ABC dramas (Revenge and Forever). But of the 8 ABC comedies, 6 are narrated, 4 of which are ABC’s top 4 comedies. So while everything else with narration doesn’t work, ABC comedies are the only positive spin for narrations.

Let’s even take it to the next level and take a look at last year. Not including one-and-done shows, ABC had 6 narrated shows (including Suburgatory and The Neighbors) and non-ABC shows had only 3 narrated shows with keeping Parks and Rec and including CBS’s How I Met Your Mother & FOX’s Raising Hope.

Last year, ABC was last place with double the narrated shows of all the other networks. Of those 6 ABC narrated shows, ModernGrey’s, and Middle were in the top half of ABC’s top rated programs. Though The Goldbergs were climbing, the 2 others were cancelled. NBC had one narrated show (Parks), which had low ratings anyways, and was the #1 network.

The CW’s new dramas have really helped the network. But it’s still a far cry from being successful compared to the Big 4 networks (Source: Buddy TV/CW).

The only argument you could make for narrated shows is The CW. Jane the Virgin and The Flash have given incredibly ratings for the network. You could even go back to another narrated show Gossip Girl, another ratings-hit for The CW. While CW has had major success this year, it’s not wise to use them as an example. While the ratings are great for the small network, putting those ratings on FOX or ABC would mean the show is struggling or dead on arrival.

In conclusion, excluding mock-umentary style narrations, there’s no evidence that narrated shows do better. In actuality, it’s the opposite. Narrated shows don’t do well. When NBC and FOX try narrated shows, they settle on the back-end of the rating spectrum and ABC dramas have not done well with narration other than Grey’s. It’s not that narrated shows can’t do well**. It’s that narrated shows are more likely to fail.

But yet ABC has dominated the narrated market for a long time. Perhaps people are over the concept of narrations. Perhaps critics view narrations as lazy writing and aren’t very fond of the practice. Whichever the reason, a suggestion for an improved ABC: cut down on the number of narrated shows. As observed in the last two years, they are more likely to hurt you than help you.

It would help them get out of last place…or they could wait for FOX to collapse. I’m hoping ABC takes the more proactive action (Source: ABC).

*-Two shows were excluded, but could have been arguably included. CBS’s Criminal Minds has a quote read at the beginning or ending of a show, but the quote is too short and not inclusive to the story. FOX’s The Mindy Project used to have narration, but has since reduced its use and hasn’t used it during this 3rd season.

**-Once in a while, a narrated show does well. CBS only had one show with narration, but How I Met Your Mother did 10 amazing seasons. So we’ll assume How I Met Your Mother is an outlier.

Previous Editorial: 5 Returning Shows Probably Getting Cancelled

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