Report: CBS had planned on ending 'Survivor' after 'Micronesia'
By Steve Rogers and Christopher Rocchio, 02/05/2008
Although it wouldn't seem to make much sense, CBS reportedly spent last summer expecting Survivor's upcoming sixteenth Micronesia -- Fans vs. Favorites edition to be the long-running reality show's last.
CBS executives, Survivor producers and host Jeff Probst spent last summer "bracing for the finish" of Survivor, according to a report in Entertainment Weekly's February 8 issue. "Micronesia was supposed to be it: the end of Survivor," according to the EW report, which credits this past fall's Survivor: China edition for sparking a creative "renaissance" and ratings revival that caused CBS to change its plans.
"A lot of us thought maybe the end was on the horizon," CBS programming chief Kelly Kahl told EW in a comment that, despite the definitive nature of its report, actually stops short of actually confirming the magazine's Survivor cancellation claims.
When reached on Tuesday, a CBS spokesperson told Reality TV world she was not aware of the report but the network regularly has internal discussions about all its shows that are up for possible renewal. The spokesperson also noted CBS had just ordered two more Survivor editions for broadcast during the 2008-2009 season and inked Probst to another two-year agreement that, assuming the show eventually receives another two-edition renewal for the 2009-2010 season, ensures Probst will remain with Survivor through the show's twentieth season.
Regardless of CBS' comments, any move to definitively pre-determine Survivor's cancellation would have been an unexpected and highly unusual decision. Although Survivor's ratings have declined -- a problem many other broadcast television shows have also experienced over the last few years -- from the 20+ million viewers average that made Top 10 shows out of each of its first ten seasons, the show has still remained a strong ratings performer.
Despite facing the show's strongest competition since NBC's Friends went off the air in May 2004, Survivor's Fall 2006 Cook Islands and Spring 2007 Fiji editions each still ranked among the 2006-2007 primetime season's Top 20 shows and consistently won the Thursdays at 8PM ET/PT time period among viewers and key ratings demographics.
"We're annihilating the competition," Probst noted to Entertainment Weekly. "For all the press that a show like Ugly Betty or My Name is Earl gets, they don't have the numbers."
Survivor: Cook Islands averaged 15.75 million total viewers and placed No. 14 in the season viewership rankings when the 2006-2007 season ended in May 2007. The ranking -- which, due to summer repeat broadcasts of other shows, actually increased to No. 11 by the formal September 2007 end of the 2006-2007 season -- left the show ranked behind only American Idol (No. 1 and 2), Dancing with the Stars (No. 3, 6, 7, 9), CSI (No. 4), House (No. 5), Grey's Anatomy (No. 8), Lost (No. 10), Desperate Housewives (No. 11), CSI: Miami (No. 12), and NBC Sunday Night Football (No. 13).
And while the Entertainment Weekly report cited Probst's recent candid comments that he "would have loved to have just erased" Survivor: Fiji because it didn't work for "creative" and "casting" reasons that included the show's awkward "have's versus have's nots" twist, the season still averaged 14.83 million total viewers and finished No. 17 in the May 2006 rankings of the 2006-2007 season's viewership averages, with only Without a Trace (No. 15) and Deal or No Deal (No. 16) separating it from Cook Islands.
Also clouding Entertainment Weekly's report is the fact that although this past fall's Survivor: China edition did improve upon Fiji's ratings -- a move that did make it the first Survivor edition since Survivor: Palau to outperform its predecessor -- the increase wasn't nearly as dramatic as the magazine suggested.
Survivor: China averaged 15.18 million total viewers and a 9.0/14 rating/share, as well as a 5.1/14 rating/share in the Adults 18-49 demographic and a 6.2/15 rating/share among Adults 25-54 during its run. The show currently ranks No. 14 in the season-to-date viewership rankings -- similar to last season, AmericanIdol (No. 1 and 2) and Dancing with the Stars (No. 3 and 5) currently hold four of the top five slots, with Fox's new The Moment of Truth game show (No. 4) sandwiched in between.
However rather than just cite Survivor:China's relatively modest 350,000-viewer increase over Survivor: Fiji (which unlike China, had to air several episodes directly against American Idol last spring), Entertainment Weekly's report appears to attempt to intentionally spin the increase as much larger. Combined with the conspicuous absence of any Kahl or Probst quotes that directly substantiate the claim that CBS had decided to pre-emptively cancel Survivor after Micronesia, the move casts a cloud of doubt over the accuracy of the rest of the report.
Instead of using the season's actual 14.83 million figure, Entertainment Weekly cites Survivor: Fiji's viewership average as "only around 14" million viewers. Then, despite not having cited a similarly rounded "14.8 million" viewership average for Fiji, the report states that Survivor: China's creative "renaissance" lifted Survivor's viewership average back "up to 15.2 million viewers."
Perhaps CBS had only decided that Micronesia may have been shaping up to be "onlyaround" the end of Survivor?