Tracing odds on next TV show to get the ax

NEW YORK -- Watch out, Fox. The Cancellation Bear is gaining on you.

The website TV By the Numbers is making sport out of predicting which television series will survive or disappear, and the first weeks of a new TV season are particularly busy. The Renew/Cancel Index is a popular feature, where all the broadcast networks' shows are given ratings from one (certain to be cancelled) to five (certain to be renewed).

Less than four weeks into the new season, CBS' "Made in Jersey" is already swimming with the fishes, and NBC announced on Thursday that the comedy "Animal Practice" will be out the door next month. That was one of six shows that the Renew/Cancel Index had given its dreaded single frowning face. Site founder Bill Gorman, asked to go out on a limb, predicted "The Mob Doctor" on Fox would be the next to disappear _ but NBC beat him to the punch.

Gorman and partner Robert Seidman regularly tweet about their predictions as "The Cancellation Bear." The name refers to the old joke about two men being chased by a bear; you don't have to be faster than the bear, just outrun the other guy. Most TV shows just need better ratings than other programs on their network to survive.

The men, who started the site in 2007 to report news on television ratings, said people follow their favorite shows like they would sports teams, and are increasingly savvy about the business of entertainment.

"The difference between the shows and sports teams is, if the Yankees have a bad year, they're not going out of business," Gorman said.

Networks invest high hopes and a lot of money to make new series but inevitably many _often most _ quickly fail. Late October is a big decision-making time because networks must determine if they will pay for a full season's worth of shows and, if a program is doing poorly, quickly replace it with something that could pull in higher ratings during the November ratings sweeps.

Other series that the Cancellation Bear suggests not getting attached to are the CBS comedy "Partners," the ABC thriller "Last Resort" and creepy "666 Park Avenue," and the NBC comedies "Animal Practice" and "Up All Night."

In Gorman's defense, he had "Animal Practice" as the second or third most likely to go, along with "Partners."

Gorman, who started the site with Seidman after noticing there wasn't another blog that regularly discussed television ratings, said the numbers usually make their rankings clear.

"We're not splitting the atom," Gorman said. "We're just stating the obvious, and the only reason we're unique is nobody else is stating the obvious."

The Cancellation Bear occasionally tweets with Kelly Kahl, the executive in charge of CBS' schedule. Kahl said the analyses provided by TV By the Numbers are generally more thorough and thoughtful than he sees online. Their weakness is an over-reliance on the numbers without weighing many other factors that play into cancellation decisions, like whether a network has an ownership stake in a series, or whether a show is an executive's personal favorite and thus given more time to succeed.

"We're all kind of in the business and if we can have a little fun with it, that's good," Kahl said.

Gorman said he and Seidman, who weren't connected to the TV industry before starting the site, are learning about those other factors. For instance, they find that a series that makes it into a third season almost always makes a fourth no matter the ratings because a fourth season is key to getting a syndication deal for reruns, and that's where real money can be made. So, rest comfortably, fans of "Hawaii Five-0," "Blue Bloods" or "Raising Hope."

Their site and the networks don't have a contentious relationship. They wouldn't get the Nielsen ratings that their reporting is based upon unless people at the networks slipped the numbers to them. That also prevents them from making more of a business out of their predictions: Nielsen would no doubt raise a stink about people freeloading on their product in that way.

They've missed some calls. Fox's "House" had the numbers to return, but the Bear didn't take into account increased costs of producing an older show, or the desire of its actors to continue, Gorman said.

"Two years ago, we thought (Fox's) `Fringe' would get cancelled and we were subsequently proven wrong," Gorman said. "We were eviscerated by their crazy fans. We're a public forum and they descended on us like locusts."

They had a public battle with actress Kathy Bates and makers of "Harry's Law" over a prediction last year that the show wouldn't survive because it had an older audience, which has little value to NBC. The show's executive producer, Bill D'Elia, tweeted "who cares what they think? `Harry's Law' is most viewed scripted drama on NBC and will return."

Nope. The Bear caught up with him.