Fizzy, Busy Finale for ABC’s Scandal

As Beltway drama blows up, 3 other network series await word of their fate

With no fewer than four broadcast series calling it a day, Thursday night was a time for cliff-hangers and farewells. But as has been the case throughout the season, only one of these shows delivered a blockbuster audience.

The season finale of ABC’s sudsy Beltway drama Scandal went off with an all-too literal bang, as a terrorist bombing changed the stakes, and the ontological status of more than one key character was thrown into question. According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the Season 3 closer averaged 10.6 million viewers and a 3.5 in the adults 18-49 demo, making it the second-highest-rated episode in Scandal’s history.

Season to date, Scandal is one of just a handful of network series that managed to improve its ratings versus the year-ago period. In its third cycle, Scandal grew 29 percent in the dollar demo to a 3.1 average.

The other three curtain closers didn’t perform nearly as well as Shonda Rhimes’ well-oiled absurdity machine. The two back-to-back episodes of CBS’ The Crazy Ones drew a 1.6 and a 1.3 among the 18-49 set, making the latter the lowest-rated installment of the season. And while the Robin Williams Madison Avenue spoof averaged 8.32 million viewers and a 2.1 over the course of its freshman run, nearly doubling what NBC’s Thursday night comedies generally rate, CBS has already renewed one middling new sitcom in Chuck Lorre’s Mom (7.57 million/2.1).

Of course, the fact that the network doesn’t exactly have what one might call an abundance of free time slots available—CBS recently made its customary spring 18-series renewal announcement—would appear to be another strike against the David E. Kelley strip.

Meanwhile, Community and Parenthood marked their respective fifth season send-offs with characteristically little fanfare. The Greendale gang drew 2.87 million viewers and a 1.0 in the demo, while Parenthood delivered 3.99 million viewers and a 1.3 rating.

That Community received such a tepid send-off while competing with a repeat of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory is not the best news for fans of the cult hit. But because the show’s vital signs always have been muddled, to speculate about the likelihood of one last renewal would be sheer folly.

With his typical show of aplomb, Community showrunner Dan Harmon stuffed the “Basic Sandwich” finale with all sorts of arch metatextual commentary. (Or as Abed says in the midst of a meandering monologue about, well, a whole bunch of stuff, “This show, Annie … it isn’t just their show. This is our show, and it’s not over.”)

As Harmon observed during last month’s PaleyFest, the fate of Community has never been easy to divine. “We’re on our fifth year of near cancellation. The only thing weirder than getting a sixth season would be not getting a sixth season,” Harmon said. “There is nothing left for the show to do that would be really weird, other than getting cancelled. That’s it. That’s all we have left.”

The Community finale ended with a deft swipe at the network’s dithering, as a clutch of faux NBC shows suggested that the folks at 30 Rock may have run out of viable ideas. (Mr. Egypt, an all-new vehicle for a half-heartedly mummified B.J. Novak, looks a little more promising than Questlove’s Celebrity Beat-Off.) The phony shows were followed by a series of title cards (“THIS SUMMER … OR FALL … OR, POSSIBLY NEXT WINTER … DEPENDS ON WHAT FAILS.”)

The status of Parenthood is similarly up in the air, although the fact that the show is produced in-house and has the numbers for a syndication run would seem to favor a final season of at least 13 episodes.