Snapshot (updated with finals at 2 PM): New series premieres: ABC’s Designated Survivor (2.2 in 18-49, 10 million, adjusted down in the finals from 2.3), Fox’s Lethal Weapon (2.2, 7.9 million), ABC’s Speechless (2.0, 7.4 million); Returning series premieres all down exception for Law & Order: SVU (1.8); Fox”s Empire (4.2 in 18-49, 10.9 million viewers, adjusted up from 4.1) tops night.
Three days and seven new series premieres in, we have yet to see a freshman series debut under a 2 Live+Same Day adults 18-49 rating, which is no small feat these days when it’s hard to create urgency and get viewers to watch a show they don’t know on premiere night.
As expected, the strongest of the new Wednesday entries was ABC’s Kiefer Sutherland drama Designated Survivor, which opened with a 2.3 in 18-49 and 10 million viewers at 10 PM, adjusted down to 2.2 in the finals. As the new fall series boasting the biggest TV star, backed by a massive marketing campaign, expectations were probably a little higher — Designated Survivor landed somewhere between the debuts of NBC’s This Is Us (2.8, 10 million at 10 PM) and CBS’ Bull (2.2, 15.6 million at 10 PM). However, This Is Us benefited by a big demo lead-in (3.4 for The Voice) and Bull from a very compatible lead-in: drama NCIS, where Bull star Michael Weatherly became a household name. Meanwhile, Designated Survivor followed comedy Black-ish (2.0 in 18-49, 6.4 million viewers).
There are several positive takeaways for the new drama. It dominated the 10 PM hour against established competition (Chicago PD, Big Brother); it doubled the delivery in the hour of the season premiere of Nashville last September (1.2, 4.9 million), despite softer lead-in; and scored ABC’s highest ratings in the time slot with scripted programming in five years (total viewers) and four years (18-49). It also held steady from the first to second half-hour and helped ABC post year-to-year growth on Premiere Wednesday.
ABC’s returning comedies were down from last fall between 0.4-0.6. In the anchor 8 PM slot, The Goldbergs (2.0, 6.8 million) did OK opening the night, posting an uptick from its season finale in May. Modern Family (2.6, 8.2 million) and Black-ish (2.0, 6,4) both were up double-digits from their May finales.
New comedy Speechless (2.0, 7.3 million) at 8:30 PM held onto its Goldbergs demo lead-in and grew in viewership. The show was well promoted and well reviewed but is not an easy sell — featuring a disable kid as one of the main characters — so its opening is encouraging, with strong word of mouth possibly helping it grow. Speechless‘ premiere was above ABC’s most recent debut in the time slot, The Real O’Neals (1.8, 6.3 million in March), with an identical 2.0 lead-in from The Goldbergs.
In the Wednesday 8 PM slot, NBC replaced The Mysteries Of Laura, from Warner Bros. TV and Berlanti Prods., with another, more expensive WBTV-Berlanti drama, Blindspot. The Live+SD ratings results were very similar, as Blindspot debuted with a 1.3 in 18-49 and 6 million viewers last night vs. 1.2 and 6.9 million for the season premiere for Mysteries Of Laura last September. Blindspot, which gets significantly stronger DVR lifts than Laura, was on par with its Season 1 finale and most of its spring run in its previous post-Voice Monday slot. It was off by 0.3 from the preview behind the America’s Got Talent finale last Wednesday and, as can be expected, way down from its series debut behind The Voice on Monday last fall (3.1 in L+SD).
Hats off to Dick Wolf for keeping Law & Order: SVU relevant after all these years. Amid a sea of year-to-year declines for returning series during premiere week, last night’s hourlong Season 18 opener of SVU (1.8 in 18-49, 7.7 million) matched the show’s two-hour Season 17 premiere and actually topped the comparable 9-10 PM hour (1.8 vs. 1.6). It did it by building sharply on its lead-in, the 16-year-younger Blindspot. While the mothership Law & Order series was denied a solo spot at the top of the longest-running drama series list, SVU could conceivably eclipse the original series’ 20-season run if it keeps chugging along (and, incredibly, with its original star).
Wolf’s other NBC drama last night, Chicago PD at 10 PM (1.6, 6.9 million), also was virtually on par with its season premiere last year, currently running off by a tenth in 18-49 and up 3% in viewers in the fast nationals.
Fox’s Empire made a serious claim at remaining the highest-rated series on broadcast TV as its third-season premiere is the only show to crack the 4 adults 18-49 Live+SD rating so far this week. It logged a 4.1 in the demo, which could be adjusted up, and 10.8 million viewers. (Empire indeed went up to a 4.2 in the finals.) That was down sharply from the Season 2 debut (-37%) but on par with the Season 2 finale.
Like ABC’s Designated Survivor, Fox’s Lethal Weapon reboot (2.2, 7.8 million) did solid business, though there were high expectations given the popularity of the title and star Damon Wayans. Lethal Weapon’s performance was in line with the debut of the lower-profile drama Rosewood in the 8 PM time slot last year (2.4, 7.4 million). Both premieres were very back-loaded as viewers joined in progress, tuning in for the Empire opener at 9 PM. (Lethal Weapon went from 1.9 to 2.4 in the demo from the first to the second half-hour vs. 2.3 to 2.2 for CBS’ Survivor in the same slot, for example.) Empire was down from last fall, thus the smaller spillover audience available for Lethal Weapon. But still, this was good sampling for the reboot.
As usual, CBS dedicated its Premiere Wednesday to the season premiere of Survivor (2.3, down 0.2 from last fall) and the finale of Big Brother (2.0, on par).
Fueled by Empire, Fox won the night in 18-49 (3,1) and total viewers (9.3 million).