Premiere week used to be the ultimate battleground, and by the end of it, new series’ producers either celebrated or were licking their wounds, with a few left in the middle. Delayed viewing has changed all that. “I don’t think early performance has ever been more clouded,” an industry source said ahead of the official start of premiere week tomorrow. Besides the handful of newcomers that would likely pop big or flop badly, it will be too early to tell for the majority of the shows whose premiere performance won’t come into focus until at least Live+3 numbers are in.
How dramatic is the change from last fall? All broadcast networks will issue some sort of l3/ l7 projections next weeks vs. only one, Fox, last fall. CBS made the official announcement this week. NBC and ABC have not weighed in officially but also will issue projections, ABC’s limiting them to returning shows for now. None have gone as far as FX, which recently announced it was abandoning completely live+same day ratings and would only report live+3 numbers, but that could come too.
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There had been only a handful of premieres ahead of the official start of the season tomorrow. NBC had a solid preview for new crime dramedy The Mysteries of Laura while Fox’s reality series Utopia has faltered. Still, as a precursor to what may be in store for scripted dramas, the most heavily DVR-ed genre on TV, Utopia saw l3 lifts of over 50% despite reality series normally registering minuscule to none DVR gains. (There is no information yet on Mysteries’ l3 gains.) Even an old skewing reality series like ABC’s Dancing with the Stars just boasted its biggest ever l3 premiere percentage lift for its Monday season debut.
It is symbolic that the 2014-15 season will open at 8 PM tomorrow night with the biggest showdown of the fall – the season premieres of the top scripted series on television, The Big Bang Theory, going head to head with the season debut of network TV’s highest rated reality show, NBC’s The Voice, as the two face the highest profile new series, Fox’s Batman drama Gotham. With all three airing at the same time, along with ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, it is clear that the fast national ratings would only provide a ratings snapshot, indicating what viewers opted to see first, with the rest of their Monday 8 PM viewing reflected in Live+same day, Live+3 and Live+7 ratings.
The drama, Gotham, would likely be affected the most, with fast nationals representing the smallest portion of its total audience, followed by the comedy (Big Bang) and the reality series (The Voice). Big Bang’s temporarily move to Monday completely changes the dynamic on the night, reminiscent of CBS’ move in early 2001 to pit then-hottest reality series on TV, Survivor against the top-rated scripted series, NBC’s Friends, on Thursday.
Going into next week, dramas once again have a leg up with better overall awareness than comedies. Comic book fans have pushed the DC-branded new fall shows to the top of the list, including Gotham, Constantine and The Flash, with CBS’ NCIS spinoff, NCIS: New Orleans, ABC’s time-traveling drama Forever and the Shonda Rhimes-produced How To Get Away with Murder also scoring well.
As usual, comedies are way, way down the awareness rankings, with ABC’s Selfie and Black-ish among those getting some traction. Drama series’ success depends largely on strength of their premise — the billboards for CBS’ new drama Stalker don’t even include a mention of its well known stars, Dylan McDermott and Maggie Q, or its well known creator, Scream and The Following‘s Kevin Williamson, instead emphasizing the show’s theme with a striking image. Meanwhile, comedies rely heavily on cast chemistry, so they usually take time to gel.
With all that caveat, here is where each broadcast network stands heading into premiere week:
Fox is in worst shape among the major broadcast networks coming off a season where virtually all of its returning series posted major declines. Things have not been very encouraging so far this fall, with New Girl and The Mindy Project opening their new seasons down 30%-40% from last fall’s premieres (but on par or above their May finales), and the big-budget Utopia not posting an improvement over the cancelled fall 2013 entry X Factor. Teen hospital drama Red Band Society did not come close to the series opening numbers of Fox’s previous teen series, Glee, and will have to rely on time-shifted viewing and word of mouth.
All that puts extra pressure on Gotham. Despite its tough time slot, the Batman prequel is expected to open well and represents Fox’s best shot at a breakout hit. The question there is whether the show would sustain its opening numbers and broaden out beyond the core comic book fan base. Fox’s live-action comedies have been in free fall. It will be interesting to see whether propping some of them with animated shows on Sunday will help .
NBC just marked its first adults 18-49 win for the broadcast and full 52-week 2013-14 TV season. With the help of The Voice, The Blacklist and the Chicago Fire franchise, the network has successfully rebuilt Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
NBC’s new goal had been to fix Thursday night, which seems as daunting as ever this fall with decade-old Biggest Loser and two brand new comedies against football on CBS. NBC may have to wait until midseason to make an impression on Thursday when it has hot drama The Blacklist slated to take the tentpole Thursday 9 PM position. That would add a third strong launching pad for the network, along with the two editions of The Voice. But that also poses one of the biggest questions heading into the season — will NBC relocate Blacklist to Thursday in February if its replacement on Monday, new drama State of Affairs, which just went through a showrunner change, doesn’t get traction?
After striking out with all of its new drama series last season, CBS is making safe bets with spinoffs from its biggest drama franchises, NCIS (New Orleans) for fall and CSI (Cyber) for midseason. Because the network has so many established launch pads, its schedule is the neatest, providing maximum protection to newcomers: NCIS: New Orleans behind NCIS, the Tea Leoni starrer Madam Secretary paired with Julianna Margulies’ The Good Wife, Stalker with the similarly darker Criminal Minds. The wild card is light procedural Scorpion, as the network is trying to shake things up on its underperformed Monday night. The night is set to get a shot in the arm early in the season with temporary transplant The Big Bang Theory at 8 PM. (CBS’ new Monday also is propped up by NCIS: LA at 10 PM where the network has struggled since moving Hawaii Five-0 to Friday.) Speaking of a shot in the arm, CBS is getting NFL action on Thursday this fall. The network will also use spillover football audience on the East Coast tonight to boost the launch of its Sunday lineup that includes Madam Secretary.
Despite making headlines with a slew of flops last season and failing again to launch a comedy behind Modern Family, ABC actually tied NBC for the most new series launched during the broadcast season to get a renewal, 3 (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Resurrection and The Goldbergs). The network has put out new comedies Selfie and Manhattan Love Story to fend for themselves unprotected in the Tuesday 8 PM hour, but it has built a formidable “Shondaland” Thursday lineup with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and buzzed about newbie How To Get Away with Murder. That all-drama lineup appears primed for DVR viewing as the question is, how many Shonda Rhimes series can a viewer take in in one seating.
The CW once again is delaying the launch of its fall lineup until October to avoid the premiere onslaught. With its young skew, the network’s programming is so heavily consumed on digital platforms that president Mark Pedowitz once called for a Nielsen ratings reform. The CW has two well received new series this fall, Arrow offshoot The Flash and dramedy Jane the Virgin. The Flash should hit right into the CW’s genre sweet spot. The question is whether Jane, with its tone that is unlike anything else on the CW, would be able to fit in.
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