By most accounts, it was a solid premiere week for the broadcast networks. The overall Live+Same Day declines were in line with expectations; the Big 4 networks combined drew a 7.2 adults 18-49, down 9% from last year’s premiere week (some of the decline has to do with a weaker Sunday Night Football game this year), and 28.25 million viewers, -5%.
There were no outright flops among the new series, though there were some disappointments. Overall, it was a very good week for CBS and NBC and a mixed bag for ABC and Fox. CBS and NBC extended their streaks of topping premiere week in total viewers and adults 18-49, respectively (eight years for CBS in viewers and five years for NBC in 18-49), though NBC won the week in the demo by a razor-thin margin (2.51 vs. 2.46 rating). CBS considers that a tie at a 2.5, claiming a share of the No. 1 spot.
CBS introduced a solid slate of new series, with all three freshman shows opening well. Comedy Kevin Can Wait and drama Bull had been engineered for a successful launch — both toplined by proven CBS stars (Kevin James and NCIS’ Michael Weatherly, respectively) and given big and compatible lead-ins (The Big Bang Theory and NCIS, respectively). Neither disappointed, ranking as the most watched new comedy (11.1 million in L+SD for Kevin Can Wait) and drama series (15.56 million for Bull) of premiere week. Bull matched NCIS‘ demo rating (2.2 in L+SD, 2.9 in L3) and even eclipsed the veteran drama’s viewership in Live+3 (19.4 million vs. 19.2). Meanwhile, Kevin Can Wait was tied for the No. 1 new comedy series premiere in 18-49 L+SD with the 10 PM episode of the NBC comedy The Good Place. While it was surpassed by The Good Place in the L+3 demo ratings, Kevin Can Wait achieved something few freshman ca do — it grew in Week 2, inching up to a 2.7 L+SD demo rating.
The success of the third new CBS series, drama MacGyver, has been a surprise. It launched at 8 PM on Friday with no lead-in support, mostly bad reviews and low expectations given the behind-the-scenes retoolings and the disappointing recent run of CBS’ Rush Hour reboot. The remake defied expectations with a solid start, winning Friday in viewers (10.73 million in L+SD) and adults 18-49 (1.7).
With CBS’ returning series also doing OK — flagship The Big Bang Theory still packs 20+ million viewers in L3 — CBS was the only network to grow its L+SD audience from last year’s premiere week (+2%) and the only net to maintain its 2015 adult 18-49 rating.
NBC found success with new dramedy This Is Us, the highest-rated new series premiere among 18-49 in L+SD (2.8) and L+3 (4.2), which just received a back order for a full-season 18-episode freshman run. Additionally, The Good Place did well in its preview behind The Voice on Monday (2.6 in L+SD, 3.6 in 18-49 for the 10-10:30 PM episode) to rank as the highest-rated new comedy series premiere of the season. The show’s first outing in its regular Thursday 8:30 PM was less stellar (1.4 in L+SD, 2.0 in L3), but that’s pretty solid for NBC, which has been struggling with comedies. Also OK was the sophomore start of The Good Place‘s Thursday lead-in, Superstore (1.5 in L+SD, 2.0 in L3), which on Friday received a full-season, 22-episode order.
Also notable is the sturdy return of NBC veteran Law & Order: SVU, 1.8 demo in L+SD for its 18th season premiere, up 13% from its 2015 opener, and a 2.9 in 18-49 L3. Additionally, The Voice is staying on par versus last fall with new coaches Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys. Former Monday 10 PM anchors Blindspot and The Blacklist were so-so in their premiere week L+SD delivery (1.3 in 18-49 for both) through The Blacklist continues to be a strong delayed viewing draw, posting an 86% L3 lift in 18-49 (1.25 to 2.33), the biggest demo percentage gain so far this season. It also added 4.2 million viewers.
The bright spot for ABC was the new Kiefer Sutherland drama Designated Survivor. After a solid but not remarkable Live+SD debut given the lofty expectations (2.2 in 18-49, 10 million), the Wednesday 10 PM drama excelled in time-shifted viewing, adding 5.3 million viewers in Live+3, the largest gain for any series this season and biggest since the debut of ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder in September 2014. In adults 18-49, Designated Survivor gained 1.5 rating in the first three days of playback, the biggest for a new series this season and tied with Fox’s mega hit Empire as the biggest gain for any new TV series debut in two years, since ABC’s HTGAWM (+1.9 on 9/25/15).
Also promising for ABC was the debut of praised new comedy Speechless (2.0 L+SD demo rating at 8:30 PM on Wednesday). And The Goldbergs made a successful move to the anchor 8 PM position on the night with a solid 2.0 18-49 L+SD rating. Additionally, the resurgence of veteran Grey’s Anatomy continues with a second consecutive solid season start as the highest-rated ABC drama series, and fellow veteran Dancing With The Stars is having a good showing with buzzy contestants like Olympians Ryan Lochte and Laurie Hernandez.
But it was not all good news for ABC. New drama Notorious was panned by critics and opened low, with a 1.1 18-49 L+SD rating behind Grey’s, which gave it a 2.5 lead-in. There was no big boost in L3 either, with the freshman climbing to a 1.6 in the demo. Also of concern is the underperforming ABC Sunday lineup, with Once Upon A Time, Secrets And Lies and last fall’s breakout Quantico all opening way down. We will find out in a couple of days whether any of the three have been able to partially close the ratings gap with strong DVR gains in L3.
ABC also has been seriously challenged by CBS on Friday where it used to dominate, and reality stalwart Shark Tank is showing its age with year-to-year declines.
Fox’ shining star continues to be Empire which, despite some erosion, still ranked as the No. 1 entertainment series during premiere week in L+SD (4.2) and L3 (5.5), edging Big Bang (5.4). The Monday genre duo Gotham and Lucifer are doing OK with help from strong DVR gains, with Lucifer promisingly building on its Gotham viewership lead-in.
But the network’s new series have performed so-so. Lethal Weapon had an OK opening in the Wednesday 8 PM hour (2.2 in L+SD) but a lot of its premiere rating was fueled by tune-in for Empire. Lethal Weapon performed below the debut in the time slot last year of Rosewood in L+SD 18-49 though it caught up in L3 and also delivered Fox’s most watched Fox premiere in two years with 10.4 L+3 viewers.
Meanwhile, Rosewood is crashing in its new Thursday 8 PM berth, opening with a dreadful 0.7 in 18-49 L+SD, which only went up to a 1.0 in L3. The sophomore drama likely hurt the Thursday debut of the well-reviewed baseball drama Pitch, which was able to build on its minuscule lead-in but only managed a 1.1 in 18-49 L+SD, which went up to a 1.6 in L3.
Also a reason for concern are new comedy Son Of Zorn, which lost more than half of its NFL-boosted premiere rating (2.4, 6.1 million in L+SD, 2.7, 6.8 million in L7) in its first regular time slot outing (1.1 in L+SD). And heavily DVR-ed/streamed The Last Man On Earth only mustered a a 0.9 L+SD demo rating. The post-apocalyptic comedy and Rosewood were the only fall series outside of Friday to log a 18-49 L+SD rating below 1 during premiere week.