The broadcast television summer season is underway and as is the case every year, the networks have hopes of launching a series or two that catches on with viewers and can be a returning staple for summers to come.
Unfortunately, summer is harder than the regular season to develop not only a hit series, but even one that is watched by a significant-sized mass audience. That’s why each network summer after summer consistently brings back a few key series that have a proven following to keep it competitive.
For NBC it’s America’s Got Talent and American Ninja Warrior. For CBS it’s Big Brother, which the network airs three nights a week, and the more recent Under the Dome. For ABC it’s The Bachelorette and Rookie Blue. And for Fox it’s Masterchef and So You Think You Can Dance.
America’s Got Talent, which just returned for its 10th season, is king of the summer and has been for virtually all of its 9 previous seasons. Last summer AGT averaged 10.4 million viewers and a 2.4 18-49 demo rating for its twice weekly first-run shows, numbers that would rank it among the most-watched during the regular season also.
American Ninja Warrior, which just began its seventh season, started airing in the summer of 2011 during its third season. The series last summer averaged 5.3 million viewers and a 1.8 in the demo and had a median age audience of 48, one of the lowest on summer broadcast TV.
Both have aired for two weeks so far this summer with AGT averaging 11.1 million viewers and a 2.6 demo rating and Warrior averaging 6.3 million viewers and a 1.9 in the demo, both drawing larger audiences than they averaged last season.
Big Brother on CBS has been a summer staple for the network since 2000 and returns for its 17th season in late June. The network airs three first-run Big Brother episodes each week and last season the trio averaged 6.4 million viewers and a 2.2 demo rating. It also draws a younger summer audience with a median age of 49 last summer.
CBS may have gotten its hopes up two summers ago when it premiered sci-fi drama series Under the Dome and it averaged 11.2 million viewers and a 2.7 in the demo to unseat AGT as the top broadcast show of the summer. However, like most regular season sci-fi shows, when Under the Dome returned for its second season last summer it took a big dip in the ratings, averaging 7.2 million viewers and a 1.6 18-49 demo rating. While still good for summer, it didn’t come close to dethroning AGT as the most-watched summer series.
ABC’s The Bachelorette returned three weeks ago for its 11th season and it has been airing during the summer on the network since 2008. Last summer The Bachelorette averaged 6.6 million viewers and a 1.7 18-49 demo rating. This summer so far, it has averaged 6.3 million viewers and a 1.9 in the demo, but one of those episodes aired on Memorial Day when viewership is traditionally low. So expect those numbers to rise a bit.
Rookie Blue has not been a big ratings draw for ABC, but the police drama which began airing during the summer of 2010 and is now entering its sixth season, averaged 5.2 million viewers and a 1.0 in the demo last summer. And those numbers of strong enough to return the series summer after summer rather than trying to replace it with a new series from scratch.
Masterchef which premiered on Fox on May 20, is now in its sixth season. Last summer it averaged 5.4 million viewers and a 1.9 18-49 demo rating with a median age audience of 49. So You Think You Can Dance, which returned for its 12th season on June 1, has been airing during the summer since 2005. Last summer it averaged 4.1 million viewers and a 1.3 demo rating.
Last summer the broadcast networks took a major step aimed at no longer taking a back seat to cable when they introduced 13 scripted and nine new reality series. However, there were no major hits.
CBS is bringing sci-fi drama Extant, starring Halle Berry, back for a summer season. It averaged a good-for-summer 6.1 million viewers, but only recorded a 1.1 in the 18-49 demo and had a median age audience of 60.
NBC premiered drama The Night Shift last summer leading out of AGT and while its numbers were good, averaging 6.6 million viewers and a 1.4 in the demo, it lost a huge chunk of its lead-in audience. NBC did move the series into its regular lineup this past spring and it averaged 5.5 million viewers and a 1.4 in the demo.
NBC also premiered sitcom Undateable last summer and it averaged just 2.8 million viewers and a 0.9 18-49 demo rating. However the network also moved it onto its regular season lineup in the spring and it averaged 5.3 million viewers and a 1.5 in the demo.
So NBC did launch a couple of series last summer that filled slots in its regular season lineup, although both were far from hits.
Cumulatively, ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW will introduce 17 news series this summer and bring back 23 series from last summer.
Here’s a closer network-by-network look at the new and returning summer 2015 programming.
The Bachelorette returned on May 18 and has averaged a similar-sized audience compared to last summer, and the network has also already run a short-run new game show 500 Questions which aired on five consecutive weekday nights beginning May 20 and averaged 4.8 million viewers and a 1.0 18-49 demo rating. Celebrity Wife Swap also returned on May 20 at 10 p.m. and through two episodes is averaging 3.3 million viewers and a 1.1 demo rating, compared to last summer’s average of 3.6 million viewers and a 1.1.
Extreme Weight Loss premiered for the summer on Tuesday, May 26 at 9 p.m. with only 2.9 million viewers and a 0.9 18-49 rating. That compares to the 3.6 million viewers and 1.0 demo rating it averaged last summer.
New summer drama series The Whispers debuted at 10 p.m. on Monday, June 1 and drew 5.7 million viewers and a 1.5 18-49 demo rating in the Castle regular season time period. The series is executive produced by Steven Spielberg, who also executive produces the CBS summer hit Under the Dome. It is about children who interact with a new friend named Drill who has gotten into their minds and what he’s asking them to do could threaten their families and the entire world.
On Thursday, June 18 at 8 p.m., ABC will finally premiere the scripted drama series The Astronaut Wives Club, which was scheduled to premiere last summer. The series is based on a book by Lily Koppel and tells the story of wives of some of the most famous American astronauts. That it’s been held for an entire year does not bode well for the series.
The Astronaut Wives Club will lead into the return of drama Mistresses at 10 p.m., which is back for its third season. Last summer it averaged 3.7 million viewers and a 1.0 18-49 demo rating.
On Sunday, June 21, the network will premiere game show Celebrity Family Feud at 8 p.m. and reality series BattleBots at 9 p.m. Steve Harvey, who hosts the syndicated version of the Feud, will also host the celebrity version. In BattleBotts homemade robots will battle against each other in a single elimination tournament. There will be cash prizes for the winners.
Police drama Rookie Blue returns on Thursday, June 25. Last summer the series averaged 5.2 million viewers and a 1.0 in the 18-49 demo.
On Sunday, Aug. 2, reality series Bachelor in Paradise returns with a special two-hour premiere beginning at 8. And it will move into its regular time period on Monday night at 8 the following night, taking over The Bachelorette time period. Last summer Bachelor in Paradise averaged 5.1 million viewers and a 1.4 demo rating. It had a median age audience of 55, same as The Bachelorette. The series features some of that series’ biggest stars and villains who return for another chance to find love.
The 17th season of veteran summer reality series Big Brother premieres on Wednesday, June 24 at 8 p.m., with the Thursday edition debuting the next night at 8. The Sunday edition will premiere on June 28, also at 9.
Last summer Big Brother on Wednesday nights averaged 6.5 million viewers and a 2.2 18-49 demo rating. On Thursday, it averaged 6.1 million viewers and a 2.1 in the demo, and on Sunday’s it drew 6.5 million viewers and a 2.2 in the demo.
Under The Dome returns for its third summer season on Thursday, June 25 at 9 and will then move into its regular time period on Thursday, July 2 at 10 p.m. Last summer the series, which tells the story about a small town that has been suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by a transparent dome, averaged 7.2 million viewers and a 1.6 demo rating.
New summer drama Zoo, based on the novel by James Patterson about a wave of violent animal attacks against humans that begin around the globe, premieres on Tuesday, June 30 at 9. Meanwhile sci-fi drama Extant returns for a second season on Wednesday, July 1 at 10 p.m. Extant, which stars Halle Berry, averaged 6.1 million viewers and a 1.1 demo rating last summer.
On May 27 at 8 p.m., CBS premiered a new summer reality series The Briefcase. Each week the show features two families experiencing financial hardships who are presented with a briefcase containing $101,000 and a potential life altering decision – keep all the money or give all or part of it to the other family also in need. What they don’t realize is that each of them have been given a briefcase.
The Briefcase drew a premiere audience of 6.1 million viewers and a 1.1 18-49 demo rating, but has also drawn criticism on social media for what some perceive as the network playing on the misfortunes of these family in order to get ratings. Some have called for the network to pull the series, but CBS says it will stay on the air.
NBC’s summer programming kicked off on Monday, May 25 with the return of American Ninja Warrior at 8 and the premiere of a new reality series The Island with Bear Grylls. Ninja Warrior has been a summer staple for the network since 2011 and through two episodes is averaging more viewers and a higher demo rating than last summer.
The Island premiered leading out of Ninja Warrior on May 25 at 10. The series is similar to last summer’s show on NBC Running Wild with Bear Grylls in that he leads a group of people trying to survive in the wild with minimal food, water or other amenities. Running Wild with Bear Grylls last summer averaged 4.1 million viewers and a 1.3 demo rating. The Island, through two episodes, is averaging 3.8 million viewers and a 1.2 in the demo. The Island will run until Monday July 6 and will be replaced by another summer season of Running Wild with Bear Grylls beginning on July 13.
NBC also premiered a special for summer drama series Aquarius on Thursday, May 28, which stars David Duchovny as a detective who crosses paths with Charles Manson while searching for a missing girl in 1967. The premiere drew 4.8 million viewers and a 0.8 18-49 demo rating. Not very promising numbers, although the series does have a limited run of 13 episodes.
Potentially worse for the network is that it released all 13 of the episodes on NBC.com and on the NBC app the day after the series premiered, potentially limiting more the TV audience going forward.
NBC brings back drama Hannibal for the third season on Thursday, June 4 at 10 p.m. In season 2 Hannibal averaged a paltry 2.4 million viewers and a 0.8 18-49 demo rating.
Cooking competition series Food Fighters returns on Thursday, July 2 at 8. The show pits amateur cooks against professional chefs. Last summer the series averaged 4.5 million viewers and a 1.1 demo rating.
Hollywood Game Night returns on Tuesday, July 7 at 10 p.m. The series is hosted by Jane Lynch and each week two contestants are teamed up with celebrities as they play assorted party games in an attempt to win up to $25,000. This summer celebrities on the show will include Sean Hayes, Don Cheadle, Olivia Wilde, Taraji P. Henson, Kaley Cuoco, Jason Sudeikis and Christina Applegate, among others.
Last summer Hollywood Game Night averaged 4 million viewers and a 1.0 18-49 demo rating.
On Sunday, July 19 at 8, sitcom Welcome to Sweden returns. The series is executive produced by Amy and Greg Poehler and follows a couple who move back to the wife’s native Sweden where the husband must deal with culture clashes and being accepted by his wife’s family.
Last summer Welcome to Sweden averaged 2.6 million viewers and a 0.7 18-49 rating. Seemingly the series, which also stars Greg Poehler, was brought back because of the network’s relationship with Amy Poehler.
Last Comic Standing is back for its ninth season on Wednesday, July 22 at 9. New judge Norm Macdonald joins returning judges Roseanne Barr and Keenan Ivory Wayans. Anthony Jeselnik is the new host of the eight-episode summer season. The competition among comics begins with 100 and is whittled down to one who will win a prize package worth $250,000.
Last summer Last Comic Standing averaged 4 million viewers and a 1.3 18-49 demo rating.
NBC will premiere two new scripted comedies on Wednesday, Aug. 5. Mr. Robinson premieres at 9 p.m. It revolves around the life of Craig Robinson, whose night job is lead singer and keyboardist of a funk band, but by day he is a substitute high school music teacher.
Mr. Robinson will lead into The Carmichael Show at 9:30, where comedian Jerrod Carmichael stars in an irreverent sitcom inspired by his life with his outspoken family and therapist-in-training girlfriend.
Drama series Wayward Pines premiered on Thursday, May 14, opposite the season finale of ABC’s hit drama Scandal and drew only 3.8 million viewers and a 1.0 18-49 demo rating. However after drawing 4.6 million and a 1.2 demo rating a week later, it pulled in only 2.9 million viewers and a 0.8 on May 28. After three episodes, the series is averaging 3.8 million viewers and a 1.0 in the demo.
It’s a short run series, with just seven episodes remaining, so Fox will most likely let it run its course. However for all the publicity the network gave it, the series viewership has been a disappointment.
On Wednesday, May 20, Fox returned its summer reality series staple Masterchef for its sixth season. Through the first two episodes, the cooking competition series has averaged only 4 million viewers and a 1.4 18-49 demo rating, down from the 5.4 million and 1.9 demo rating it averaged last summer.
Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? returned to Fox on Tuesday, May 26 at 8 p.m. The game show originally launched on the network in 2007 and after two years went into syndication. When it went off the air it was averaging 5.7 million viewers and a 1.3 18-49 demo rating during the regular season. In its return to the network, the series, in which a group of grade schoolers attempt to help adults contestants win prizes, averaged just 3.3 million viewers and a 0.8 demo rating.
Competition series Bullseye premiered on Wednesday, May 27 and drew 3.3 million viewers and a 1.1 demo rating.
Veteran summer series So You Think You Can Dance returned on Monday, June 1 at 8 p.m. for its 12th season with a new group of contestants taking aim at the $250,000 top prize. There are also two new judges – Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo.
SYTYCD premiered this season with 4 million viewers and a 1.3 18-49 demo rating, almost identical to its last summer average of 4.1 million viewers and a 1.3 in the demo.
Another new series, game show Boom! will premiere on Thursday June 25 at 8 p.m. The show is hosted by comedian Tom Papa and features teams of three players who have to defuse a series of ticking “slime-bombs” by cutting wires that are related to the correct answers. Inside the bombs that could explode are stuff like mashed potatoes and guacamole. The losing team gets doused.
On Tuesday, July 21, Fox will introduce a new reality series Knock, Knock Live, hosted by American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest. In this show, a team travels across the country surprising unsuspecting people at their front doors with a chance to win big cash prizes, meet their favorite celebrities and turn their dreams into reality.
The network has been getting more active the past few summers. Last summer it premiered some new scripted series that didn’t wind up working showed its viewers that it is not just abandoning summer with regular reason repeats. The CW also aired a couple of new reality series that it is bringing back this summer, along with two new comedies.
Scripted drama Beauty and the Beast will return on Thursday, June 11 for a third season, even though it was one of the network’s least watched series in season 2. The series averaged 841,000 viewers and a 0.3 18-49 demo but network execs believe it is in its audience’s wheelhouse and will give it a chance during the summer.
New reality competition series Cedric’s Barber Battle joins the schedule on Monday, June 29 at 9:30 p.m. The show is hosted by Cedric The Entertainer who each episode will visit a different barbershop in cities like Los Angeles, Austin, Texas and New York City. There, the best barbers will go head to head creating hair sculptures on customers featuring elaborate designs. A panel of judges will determine the winner.
Variety competition series Penn & Teller: Fool Us returns from last summer on Monday, July 6 at 8 p.m. Last summer it drew 1.7 million viewers and a 0.5 18-49 demo rating. It will lead into back-to-back half hour episodes of improve series Whose Line Is It Anyway, which is also back for summer after averaging 1.7 million viewers and a 0.6 in the demo last year.
Competition series Masters of Illusion returns on Friday, July 10 at 8. Last season it averaged 1.3 million viewers and a 0.3 in the 18-49 demo.
America’s Next Top Model, hosted by Tyra Banks, is back for its 22nd cycle on Wednesday, Aug. 5. While the beauty competition series is waning in popularity, it still drew 1 million viewers and a 0.4 18-49 demo rating in its summer run last year.
The CW did not have great success last summer with two scripted comedies Seed and Backpackers each drawing under 500,000 viewers and 0.2’s in the 18-49 demo. However the network is trying again this summer.
On Monday, Aug. 3 at 9:30 p.m. it will air Significant Mother, which centers around a restaurateur whose world is turned upside down when he returns from a trip to find his best friend and roommate dating his recently separated mother.
Unscripted series A Wicked Offer will premiere on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 9 p.m. The series will test how far couples will go for money.
The four-month broadcast summer season also includes lots of sports programming and this summer will include Women’s World Cup telecasts on Fox, along with the usual NBA Finals telecasts on ABC, NHL Stanley Cup Finals on NBC, some college football games on Fox and ABC in September and NFL Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football on NBC and CBS, respectively.
Last summer CBS averaged a 1.8 in the 18-49 demo and 6.9 million viewers to win the summer in both categories. However the CBS numbers included two Thursday Night Football games. NBC was second in the 18-49 demo with a 1.7 and second in viewers with a 6.5 million average, but those numbers include three Sunday Night Football telecasts. Fox finished third in the 18-49 demo, averaging a 1.3, with ABC finishing in fourth with a 1.1. The CW averaged a 0.4 in the demo for the summer.
Among viewers, ABC was third, averaging 4.3 million, followed by Fox, which averaged 4 million viewers and the CW, which averaged 1.2 million.