Did primetime network TV – in this case ABC – go out on a limb with their four-night, eight-hour opus chronicling the birth of the gay rights movement in When We Rise, which wraps up Friday night (March 3)? The seeming consensus is yes.
…Unfortunately, the first night of When We Rise drew only three million viewers in the U.S. so it was hardly a ratings bonanza. It’s especially concerning given that the premiere followed the highly rated The Bachelor. Clearly, ABC wasn’t trying to bury the project but it is worth noting that the network didn’t publicize the miniseries like its other offerings in the past.
ABC can’t be accused of underplaying When We Rise, its eight-hour drama miniseries chronicling the struggles and setbacks of LGBT activists in the 20th century.
Some thought the show, created by award-winning gay activist Dustin Lance Black and aired on four nights this week, goes out of its way to portray middle America as intolerant homophobes.
When We Rise received saturation ad coverage during the Oscars ahead of its premiere this week, to the extent that one Twitter commentator joked that if he drunk alcohol every time he saw an advert for the show, he’d be dead by the end of the Academy Awards broadcast.
But part one of When We Rise flopped on Monday.
As a result, ABC rescheduled Modern Family to run just before the second installment to boost ratings. However, viewership of the second part fell almost 1 million viewers from its premiere, netting an audience of only 2.05 million on Wednesday, which is pathetic for prime-time slot on a commercial TV network.
…Doubtless there will be devotees of the show who will blame the president for interrupting the flow of When We Rise, which stars Guy Pearce, Mary Louise Parker and Whoopi Goldberg.
But its failure more likely stems from the fact that viewers don’t respond well to ‘virtue scheduling’ on TV. When We Rise at times resembled an infomercial for GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders). Even the New York Timesdidn’t give the show a rave—when the Grey Lady sniffs that a starry gay-rights drama “plays like a high-minded, dutiful educational video,” you know the show is in trouble.
ABC’s “When We Rise” suffered another night of losses in adults 18-49 and total viewership. It tied for last place in the former.