Reading all the media coverage this broadcast television season you would think that the networks saw nothing but viewer regression. However, the broadcast networks have actually cumulatively produced a few more-watched freshman series this season than they did last season. Most of them are on CBS.
During the 2013-14 season, several first-year series were renewed, but only two had season-long viewership that could be considered successful – NBC drama The Blacklist, which at this point last season was averaging a 2.7 18-49 demo rating and 9.9 million viewers, and CBS comedy The Millers, a 2.5 in the demo and 10.4 million viewers.
ABC had success with mid-season drama Resurrection, which was averaging 3.2 in the demo and 11.6 million viewers at this point early in its run last season, and ended the season averaging a 2.5 in the demo and 9.3 million viewers — still pretty good.
The Millers, however, last season led out of The Big Bang Theory which averaged a 4.5 demo rating and 16.1 million viewers. So much of the success enjoyed by The Millers was based on it retaining a good portion of its lead-in audience. CBS returned The Millers but moved it away from Big Bang into its Monday night comedy block this season, and the series averaged just a 1.7 demo rating and 7.1 million viewers and was cancelled.
Resurrection returned this fall and during its run averaged only a 1.4 demo rating and 5.1 million viewers, so its chance at being a hit this season was doomed.
With just a little over a month to go this season, the broadcast networks have four bonafide hit freshman series — NCIS: New Orleans and Madam Secretary on CBS, Empire on Fox and The Flash on The CW.
NCIS: New Orleans is averaging a 2.2 in the 18-49 demo and 15.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings, but it is also leading out of the original NCIS, which is now in its 12th season and is still averaging 15.9 million viewers. Madam Secretary is averaging 12.1 million viewers but its 18-49 rating is just a 1.5. Empire, which just completed a short-run first season, averaged a broadcast network leading 5.0 18-49 demo rating among primetime entertainment shows as well as 12.7 million viewers.
On a lesser scale because The CW does not have the same distribution strength as the Big Four networks, its first year drama The Flash this season is currently averaging a 1.1 in the demo and 3.1 million viewers, and that is higher than the network’s most-watched series last season, Arrow, was averaging at this point last season (0.8 and 2.4 million). So The Flash can also be classified as a hit.
In addition, Scorpion on CBS is averaging a 2.1 demo rating at this point in the season along with 10.2 million viewers and based on today’s ratings criteria, could be considered a mild hit. And while ABC’s freshman drama How to Get Away with Murder, which recently ended its season, averaged only 7.7 million live plus same day viewers, the series also averaged as 2.3 rating among viewers 18-49, making it one of the most-watched dramas in primetime in that advertiser-desired demo. How to Get Away with Murder also picked up about 4 million additional viewers in live-plus-seven day mode during its run this season.
CBS’ mid-season sitcom, the reboot of The Odd Couple is averaging a 2.5 in the demo and 10.2 million viewers, but it has been declining slowly but steadily since it premiered in mid-February. And CBS drama CSI: Cyber has aired only four episodes and is averaging a 1.6 in the demo and 9.1 million viewers.
At the opposite end of the spectrum most of the networks have had their share of failures, some of which were canceled rather quickly. And in that regard, their failures have pretty much mirrored the ratings of last season’s failed freshman shows.
Among the broadcast freshman failures this season are: NBC’s A to Z (0.8 in the 18-49 demo, 2.7 million viewers); Constantine (0.9, 3.3 million); Bad Judge (0.9, 3.8 million); Allegiance (0.9, 3.8 million); Marry Me (1.2, 3.8 million); The Slap (0.8, 3.8 million); and Fox’s Mulaney (0.7, 1.7 million); Utopia (0.8, 2 million); Red Band Society (1.0, 3.1 million); and Gracepoint (0.9, 3.6 million).
ABC freshman drama Forever, with a 1.0 18-49 demo rating and 4.5 million viewers, can’t be considered a success, even though it is still on the air, while CBS gave an early cancellation to freshman sitcom The McCarthys that averaged a 1.5 demo rating and 6.9 million viewers.
Last season’s Top 10 freshman series in the 18-49 demo at this point were: ABC's Resurrection (3.2); NBC's The Blacklist (2.7); CBS' The Millers (2.5); NBC's About a Boy (2.2); ABC's Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2.1); CBS' The Crazy Ones (2.0); Fox's Sleepy Hollow (2.0); ABC's Super Fun Night (1.9); CBS' Mom (1.9); and ABC's Back in the Game (1.8).
Last season’s Top 10 freshman series in viewers at this point last season were: Resurrection (11.6 million); The Millers (10.4 million); The Blacklist (9.9 million); The Crazy Ones (8.3 million); About a Boy (7.9 million); CBS' Intelligence (7.3 million); Mom (7.2 million); NBC's Growing Up Fisher (7.1 million); Back in the Game (6.4 million); and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (6.3 million).
This season’s Top 10 freshman series in the 18-49 demo at this point in the season are: Fox's Empire (5.0); CBS' The Odd Couple (2.5); ABC's How To Get Away with Murder (2.3); CBS' NCIS: New Orleans (2.2); CBS' Scorpion (2.1); ABC's Black-ish (2.1); Fox's Gotham (1.9); Fox's The Last Man on Earth (1.9); ABC's Fresh Off the Boat (1.7); and CBS' CSI: Cyber (1.6).
This season’s Top 10 freshman series in viewers at this point in the season are: NCIS: New Orleans (15.4 million); Empire (12.7 million); CBS' Madam Secretary (12.1 million); Scorpion (10.2 million); The Odd Couple (10.2 million); CSI: Cyber (9.1 million); How To Get Away with Murder (7.7 million); CBS' Stalker (7.7 million); NBC's The Mysteries of Laura (7 million); and CBS' The McCarthys (6.9 million).
Empire’s strong ratings during its 10-episode airing not only drew viewers to Fox, but the predominantly African-American cast draw viewers away from ABC’s freshman series Black-ish, which also has a predominant African-American cast when the two shows went head to head.
Prior to Empire’s premiere, Black-ish was averaging a 2.6 in the 18-49 demo and 7.9 million viewers, but after Empire’s 10-episode run, Black-ish was averaging a 2.1 rating in the demo and 6.6 million viewers for the season.