The fall finales are over, and it’s probably hard to remember how most freshman series ended their initial runs. That’s because there weren’t any new shows to become instant watercooler phenoms the way Empire did last midseason. There were two standouts: NBC’s Blindspot, which already has been renewed for next season, and ABC’s Quantico, which has been breaking delayed-viewing records. There were also several decent performers including NBC’s Chicago Med, CBS’ Limitless and Fox’s Rosewood, along with a few flat-out flops, including ABC’s Wicked City and Blood & Oil and NBC’s Truth Be Told.
Based on most-current ratings that include DVR viewing, Fox is slightly up from last fall, NBC and CBS are even/slightly down, while ABC and the CW are off by double-digits.
A18-49 Rating Total Viewers (000)
NBC 2.8 -3% 9,903 +1%
CBS 2.4 -4% 11,406 -3%
ABC 2.1 -13% 7,615 -12%
FOX 2.1 +5% 6,206 +2%
CW 0.8 -11% 1,985 -13%
The validity of the Nielsen TV ratings has been put into question more than ever this season as multi-platform viewing has proliferated. Still, with Live+7 included, they provide a snapshot and a sense of the direction networks are going. Here are where the broadcast networks stand one-third into the season and what lies ahead for each of them:
NBC again is leading the pack in adults 18-49 powered by Sunday Night Football. This time, the network has something it couldn’t boast about last fall: a breakout new series in drama Blindspot. Only one new NBC series from the 2014-2015 season, The Mysteries Of Laura, made it to Season 2, with a partial 13-episode order. This year, Blindspot already has been renewed for next season, and early indications point to a successful expansion of the Chicago franchise with a promising start for Chicago Med.
Heading into midseason, comedy continues to be NBC’s Achilles heel. The network shrunk its comedy presence to an hourlong block on Friday with live episodes of Undateable paired with newbie Truth Be Told. Undateable has done so-so in the ratings but has a cult following and support from the press, while Truth Be Told is a goner. A new comedy block will launch in January in the Monday 8-9 PM slot with new comedies Superstore and Telenovela. While Superstore showed some promise in its preview behind The Voice, Telenovela was soft, raising questions about the two comedies’ ability to hold their own in the 8 PM anchor slot.
CBS was relatively steady, down only a fraction from last fall. Once again, the network was solid, scoring some singles and doubles but not a home run with new shows Limitless, Life In Pieces and Supergirl. There is not much on the horizon as CBS continues to be epitome of stability with very few scheduling changes in midseason. CSI: Cyber had been underperforming on Sundays, so we may see the end of a one of the biggest TV drama franchises in May.
Fox is the only network in positive territory with modest gains vs. the dismal fall the network had last season. The main driver has been Empire, the highest-rated scripted program on broadcast TV, which wasn’t on last fall. While the hip-hop drama continues to deliver, Fox’s highest-profile new series this fall, Scream Queens and Minority Report, have largely disappointed. The young-skewing Scream Queens did open a new round of the discussion how to properly measure a show’s performance if a big portion of the viewing is not done on a linear platform. The biggest question for Fox is how long Empire can stay a powerhouse. We also will see whether mostly well reviewed new comedies Grandfathered and The Grinder can grow after a soft start by being shored up with comedy lead-ins.
It has been a mixed-bag fall for ABC. A breakout hit, Quantico; a couple of misses, Wicked City and Blood & Oill; and below expectations, Muppets. Add declines for established players like Castle and the net result is a drop from last fall when ABC was flying high with red-hot newcomer How To Get Away with Murder. But ABC quietly has been able to add more comedy assets in the past two years than any other broadcast network. The Goldbergs, now in its third season, was followed by Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, which both solidified their positions this season with good sophomore runs, while freshman Dr. Ken has done well on Friday. Still, the network needs one of its midseason additions to click in order to put the season in the positive column. While Of Kings And Prophets comes with low expectations given its bumping from the fall schedule for a revamp, ABC’s hopes are likely pinned on new dramas The Catch, which has Shonda Rhimes as executive producer, and The Family, toplined by Oscar winner Joan Allen.
How long until The Legends Of Tomorrow premieres? The CW brass likely can’t wait for the January 21 bow of the superhero team-up drama after a sluggish fall in which the network was down double-digits from last fall, marked by the ratings record-breaking debut of The Flash. The CW’s superhero franchises, Arrow and The Flash, are still going strong, thus the high hopes for Legends Of Tomorrow. But the network’s critically praised Monday comedy block has struggled mightily in the ratings and the decline of veteran The Vampire Diaries has accelerated. A midseason ratings turnaround would help in the CW’s ongoing negotiations with its main affiliate group Tribune.