Seven weeks into the 2013-14 season, the dust has started to settle, the strongest new shows have been renewed, the biggest duds have been cancelled, and the borderline performers have been getting a mix of both. Some anticipated time slot wars materialized, like the Tuesday 8 PM hour where incumbent NCIS and newcomers Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Originals all have been competitive, and some didn’t, like the hyped Blacklist-Hostages showdown, which turned to be a lopsided match. Which leads us to one of the lessons of this fall, that pre-launch tracking is not that reliable.
Until the very start of the fall season, CBS’ Hostages was tracking on par with NBC’s The Blacklist. But when ratings for premiere night were in, Blacklist more than doubled Hostages‘ demo tally. While boosted by DVR viewing, Hostages never became the breakout hit it was tipped to be.
What has mattered in a big way this fall are lead-ins, even with DVR penetration at 48%. NBC’s Blacklist and hot sophomore drama Chicago Fire have been helped tremendously by The Voice. CBS’ new Thursday comedies The Millers and The Crazy Ones owe their well being (and back orders) to The Big Bang Theory. When Big Bang switched to a repeat, the newbies’ fortunes plunged. (list of all new fall shows with their status after the jump)
On the surface, a whopping nine new comedy series have been given back orders on the Big 4 networks (all but ABC’s Super Fun Night and NBC’s Sean Saves The World have received full-season pickups), along with NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show, which had a 22-episode order, vs. three new dramas, including the Season 2 pickup for Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. But the three dramas – Blacklist, Sleepy Hollow and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. — are the freshmen that have shown breakout potential this fall while comedies had another off year. That is not terribly alarming to network brass as some comedy hits have taken time to grow, such as Cheers, Seinfeld and more recently The Office, The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. Problem is that we haven’t seen much of that in the past couple of years. Instead, there have been a ton of comedies that started promisingly (like 2 Broke Girls and Suburgatory) and then lost their way or started off soft and never went to another level before the cancellation ae fell on them after 1, 2 or 3 seasons, like ABC’s Happy Endings and Don’t Trust The B—- In Apt 23, NBC’s Whitney and Fox’s Ben & Kate.
There has been an increase in the comedy volume put out by the networks in the past couple of years. That, combined with the lack of half-hour breakouts, has led to many but weakened comedy blocks. We have the most two-hour comedy blocks on the Big 4 — five — in a decade. But none of them has done particularly well. At least, CBS’ Thursday and Monday, ABC’s Wednesday and Fox’s Tuesday lineups each has one-two strong performers to keep them afloat, including CBS’ The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother, ABC’s Modern Family and New Girl (Just don’t look at New Girl’s series 1.7 18-49 rating last night.) The Fox comedies, pretty soft in Live+Same Day, often get solid DVR bumps. But there is no way to sugarcoat the performance of NBC’s Thursday comedy block post-The Office. The numbers have been so dismal that some observers suggest NBC would have to do something drastic, partially or completely overhauling the once-Must See TV lineup like Jeff Zucker’s controversial scheduling of The Apprentice at 9 PM on the night.
Overall, it has been a decent fall for the broadcast networks. In most current, season to date ratings through last week, which include available Live+3 and Live+7 data, the networks are roughly on par with last fall. Fox (7.6 million viewers 2.5 in adults 18-49) is up 6% in total viewers and flat in 18-49 through last week. But the network quickly is erasing the big gains posted by this year’s strong baseball post-season despite solid ratings for newcomers Sleepy Hollow and MasterChef Junior. The top culprits: The X Factor, which is continuing its ratings tailspin, and Glee, which has barely registered this fall save for the Cory Monteith episodes, with the comedy block not that far behind.
NBC (9.6 million, 3.1) is up 10% in total viewers, down 3% in 18-49 and repeating as No.1 in the demo for the fall. With strong performances from newbie The Blacklist and sophomore Chicago Fire, plus The Voice and Sunday Night Football, if it weren’t for Thursday night dragging NBC’s averages down, the network would’ve been up year-to-year in 18-49. CBS (12 million, 2.8), is up 3% in total viewers and flat in 18-49. None of CBS’ new shows have popped and the network’s Monday night is still a problem, even after Mike & Molly rejoined the lineup. Still, CBS boasts the biggest comedy and drama on broadcast TV with Big Bang and NCIS. ABC (8.7 million, down 4%; 2.5, down 4%) is not in very good shape. Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing well when DVR is factored in but it has not been as consistent as Blacklist or Sleepy Hollow, still dropping every week and getting surpassed by Sleepy Hollow in Live+SD for the first time this week. Scandal has been solid, but most of the network’s other returning series are down and freshmen have underwhelmed.
The CW, which just gave all three of its freshman drama series full-season orders, is running up 8% year to year in total viewers (1.9 million) and up 9% in 18-49 (0.8) on the strength of its genre series, including strong new addition The Originals. Proving once again how limited traditional TV ratings are, especially among younger viewers, 40% of The CW’s total overall audience for its season premieres this fall came from digital viewing, with digital viewing of full episodes up 50% vs. last year. Here is a list of all new fall series that have premiered with their status:
Fox’s Sleepy Hollow (renewed for second season)
Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine (full-season/Back 9 pickup)
Fox’s Dads (full-season pickup)
NBC’s The Blacklist (full-season pickup)
ABC’s Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (full-season pickup)
ABC’s The Goldbergs (full-season pickup)
ABC’s Trophy Wife (full-season pickup)
CBS’ The Crazy Ones (full-season pickup)
CBS’ The Millers (full-season pickup)
CBS’ Mom (full-season pickup)
CW’s The Originals (full-season pickup)
CW’s The Tomorrow People (full-season pickup)
CW’s Reign (full-season pickup)
NBC’s Sean Saves The World (five-episode pickup)
ABC’s Super Fun Night (four-episode pickup)
CBS’ We Are Men (cancelled)
ABC’s Lucky 7 (cancelled)
ABC’s Back In The Game (cancelled)
NBC’s Ironside (cancelled)
NBC’s Welcome To The Family (cancelled)
CBS’ Hostages (to finish 15-episode first-season order, future TBD, unlikely)
ABC’s Betrayal (to finish limited first-season order, future TBD, unlikely)
Fox’s MasterChef Jr. (renewal pending)
TV Editor Nellie Andreeva - tip her here.