At latest count, the Big Four broadcast networks are planning to introduce 11 new scripted and seven new reality series this summer, as they begin making their move to no longer concede summer TV viewership to cable.
Cumulatively, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox will also bring back 16 series from last summer, including 12 reality shows and four scripted dramas.
“The broadcast networks have finally copied a page out of the cable networks’ book, putting more scripted dramas on during the summer,” says Brad Adgate, senior VP and director of research at Horizon Media. “When CBS succeeded with Under the Dome last summer, it showed all the networks that if you put on a high-quality drama during the summer, it could get a sizable audience.”
ABC and NBC did try a few new scripted dramas last summer that didn’t pull in mass audiences, but it was Under the Dome, based on a book by Stephen King and with Steven Spielberg as one of its executive producers, that took off, averaging 11.2 million viewers and a 2.7 18-49 demo rating.
This summer, CBS will not only bring back Under the Dome but introduce another big budget sci-fi drama with Extant, which stars Halle Berry as a female astronaut trying to reconnect with her family when she returns after a year in space.
However, the network jumping into summer with the most scripted series is NBC. The network is touting its summer schedule as one with the most new scripted programming put on by any broadcast network during the summer in more than 20 years.
NBC will introduce five dramas and one sitcom this summer alongside its three returning reality series, including its long-running summer hit America’s Got Talent, which averaged around 10 million viewers per episode in first-run across multiple nights last summer.
In addition to Extant, CBS will premiere scripted drama Reckless and bring back its veteran summer hit Big Brother on three nights a week, along with the third season of police drama Unforgettable.
Fox will premiere its new version of prior hit series 24, titled 24: Live Another Day, starring Kiefer Sutherland as agent Jack Bauer on May 5, and it will continue to run into the summer. Fox will also premiere a second scripted series, action drama Gang Related, along with two new reality series. It will also bring back its three reality series from previous summers—MasterChef , So You Think You CanDance and Hotel Hell.
ABC’s new drama series for the summer is The Astronaut Wives Club; ABC will also premiere three new reality series and return three scripted series and five reality series from last summer.
“This could be the best summer ever for original broadcast content on television during the summer,” says Horizon’s Adgate, who wonders why it took broadcast networks so long to stop abandoning summers by just airing fall repeats.
“The broadcast model for summer stopped working a while ago,” Adgate says. “First-run cable dramas have always done well during the summer and it was like broadcast was just conceding the summer to cable.”
Adgate points out that 40% of annual movie tickets are sold during the summer months, so people will watch scripted content if it is something that interests them.
While the cost of all this new summer programming is going to add to the broadcast networks’ expense sheet, there are ways to mitigate those costs. If the programming becomes popular with viewers, the networks can charge more for advertising. And they can also use these shows to promote their fall schedules.
Adgate says with no Olympics this summer, advertisers may be looking for places to put those marketing dollars, particularly if some of the series can catch fire like Under the Dome did last year.
And Adgate adds that if the programming becomes really popular, the networks can sell repeat rights to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.
There is the possibility that all this new content on the broadcast networks, combined with the annual summer premieres of many of the cable networks’ big series, could overwhelm viewers with the amount of selection and cause some of the new fare to be passed over.
“We’re going to find out,” Adgate says.
During last summer’s four-month broadcast season (May 23 to Sept. 22), CBS averaged the most viewers with 5.7 million per night, compared to NBC’s 5.6 million, ABC’s 4.7 million and Fox’s 3.3 million. Among the 18-49 demo, NBC averaged a 1.6 rating, ABC a 1.4 and CBS and Fox a 1.2 each. NBC also won the summer demo battle in the 25-54 demo, averaging a 2.0, compared to a 1.7 for ABC, a 1.5 for CBS and a 1.4 for Fox. And NBC also won the battle for millennial viewers, averaging a 1.2, compared to 1.1 for both ABC and Fox and a 0.7 for CBS.
There are some caveats to those viewer and ratings numbers, however, as they do include some sports programming. The NBA Finals on ABC last June averaged about 16.6 million viewers per telecast, and the NHL Stanley Cup Finals games on NBC averaged 6.6 million viewers. Fox’s numbers also include a handful of NFL preseason games.
Under the Dome was the most-watched program overall, followed closely by NBC’s America’s GotTalent. CBS’ next most-watched summer show was NCIS repeats, which averaged 8.5 million viewers (compared to18.5 million during the regular season). Sitcom The Big Bang Theory in repeats averaged 8 million viewers and a 2.0 18-49 demo rating (compared to 15.6 million and 4.8 in the demo during the regular season.)
CBS has always done better than its fellow broadcasters during the summer with its procedural dramas, which tend to repeat well compared to other networks’ serialized dramas; CBS’ comedies also do relatively well in summer repeats. Last summer, Two and a Half Men, leading out of Big Bang, averaged 6.3 million viewers, while dramas NCIS: Los Angeles averaged 6.5 million viewers, CSI averaged 6.1 million viewers, Blue Bloods averaged 5.4 million and Person of Interest averaged 5.1 million viewers. Those viewer numbers were higher than dramas on the other broadcast networks and higher than just about all of the summer first-run cable dramas.
With its regular-season series doing that well, CBS has had less of a reason to shake up its summer schedule by putting on a large number of new series.
NBC tried new dramedy Camp last summer, a series that starred Rachel Griffiths as a camp owner competing with a more upscale camp across the lake. It averaged 3.7 million viewers and a 1.0 18-49 demo rating. None of NBC’s new reality series really clicked.
Here’s a closer network-by-network look at the new and returning summer 2014 programming.
ABC will premiere five new reality series this summer and one new scripted drama. It will also return three scripted dramas and four reality series from last summer.
ABC will begin the summer season of The Bachelorette on Monday, May 19 at 9:30 p.m., leading out of Dancing With the Stars. Last summer, The Bachelorette performed well for the network, averaging 6.6 million viewers, a 2.0 18-49 demo rating, a 2.3 25-54 demo rating and a 1.6 in the 18-34 demo. A week after its premiere (May 26), The Bachelorette will move to its regular 8 p.m. time period.
Crime drama Motive returns for its second season on Wednesday, May 21 at 10 p.m. Last summer, Motive averaged 4.7 million viewers, a 0.9 18-49 demo rating and a 1.2 among viewers 25-54.
Reality series Extreme Weight Loss returns for another summer season at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 27. Last summer, it averaged 3.7 million viewers, with a 1.2 18-49 demo rating and a 1.5 among viewers 25-54.
Another returning reality series is Bet on Your Baby, which premieres on Saturday, May 31 at 8 p.m. The series only aired two Saturday night episodes last summer, averaging only 2.1 million viewers and a 0.4 18-49 demo rating. New reality series Sing Your Face Off will premiere at 9 p.m. leading out of Bet on Your Baby. Each week, this series will air back-to-back episodes from 9-11 p.m. on Saturdays.
Sing Your Face Off is a talent variety competition in which celebrities take on the personas of legendary music icons and perform as that person. Among the celebrities appearing as competitors on the show are Lisa Rinna, Jon Lovitz and NBA player Landry Fields of the Toronto Raptors. John Barrowman hosts and Debbie Gibson and Darrell Hammond are the judges. There are also celebrity judges each week that will include RuPaul, Carnie Wilson, Richard Simmons and Carmen Electra, among others.
Drama Mistresses, starring Alyssa Milano, returns for its second summer season on Monday, June 2 at 10 p.m. Last summer it averaged 3.8 million viewers with a 1.2 18-49 demo and a 1.4 in the 25-54 demo.
Police drama Rookie Blue returns for its fifth summer season at 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 19. Last summer Rookie Blue averaged 5.1 million viewers, a 1.1 18-49 demo rating and a 1.4 rating among viewers 25-54. It was the network’s most-watched summer drama.
Obstacle course competition series Wipeout returns with a two-hour premiere on Sunday, June 22, at 7 p.m., leading into new singing competition series Rising Star at 9. Wipeout then moves to its regular 8 p.m. time period the following Sunday. Last summer Wipeout averaged 3.8 million viewers, a 1.1 18-49 demo rating and a 1.3 among viewers 25-54.
The critically-acclaimed medical reality series NY Med returns on Tuesday, June 24 at 10 p.m. The series first aired in the summer of 2012 and has been in production since then, comprising this season’s eight episodes. Each episode follows real life surgeons at Manhattan’s New York Presbyterian Hospital and at University Hospital in Newark. The series averaged about 4.3 million viewers in its first season.
ABC will premiere its new scripted drama series The Astronaut Wives Club on Thursday, July 24 at 9 p.m. Based on a book by Lily Koppel, the 10-episode limited series tells the story of wives of some of the most famous American astronauts.
New high-tech, futuristic competition series The Quest will premiere on Thursday, July 31 at 8 p.m. It comes from the producers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the producers of TheAmazing Race.
New reality series Bachelor in Paradise will premiere on Monday, Aug. 4 at 8 p.m. The series is not exactly novel—from the creator of ABC’s The Bachelor, this summer series will feature some of that series’ biggest stars and villains returning for a second chance to find love. Chris Harrison, who hosts The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, will also host this series.
The 16th season of veteran summer reality series Big Brother premieres on Wednesday, June 25 at 8 p.m., with the Thursday edition debuting the day after on June 26 at 9 p.m. The Sunday broadcast premieres on June 29 at 8 p.m., leading into new scripted legal drama Reckless at 9. Unforgettable follows with its third season premiere (and second summer season) at 10 p.m.
Last summer, Big Brother on Wednesday nights averaged 6.4 million viewers, a 2.2 18-49 demo rating and a 2.7 25-54 rating. On Thursdays, it averaged an almost identical 6.5 million viewers with a 2.3 in 18-49 and 2.7 in 25-54. Big Brother’s Sunday numbers were 6.6 million viewers with a 2.2 18-49 rating and a 2.7 in 25-54.
Unforgettable, airing for the first time during the summer last year, averaged 6.7 million viewers, a 1.1 18-49 demo rating and a 1.6 25-54 rating.
Reckless, set in Charleston, S.C., follows a litigator from the north and an attorney from the south who must hide their attraction towards each other as a police sex scandal threatens to tear apart the city.
The surprise hit series of last summer, sci-fi drama Under the Dome, returns on Monday, June 30 at 10 p.m. Last summer it averaged 11.2 million viewers, a 2.7 18-49 demo rating, a 3.6 15-54 demo rating and a 1.6 18-34 demo rating. It was the most watched scripted summer series in 21 years. Under the Dome also averaged a 1.6 rating among the 12-17 year-old demo, proving that a summer series can even attract younger viewers if it is in their wheelhouse.
Under the Dome continues the story about a small town that has been suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by a transparent dome.
New sci-fi drama series Extant premieres on Wednesday, July 9 at 9 p.m.
Fox will premiere two new scripted summer series and one new reality series prior to the official end of the current 2013-14 season, which is May 23.
24: Live Another Day, a continuation of the original Fox series 24, premieres with a two-hour episode on Monday, May 5 at 8 p.m. The following Monday it moves to its regular 9 p.m. time period and air throughout the summer.
On Tuesday, May 13, Fox will premiere new reality series Riot, which features celebrities and comedians competing in song, dance and sketch challenges.
Action drama Gang Related premieres on Thursday, May 22 at 9 p.m. The series follows a gang task force, with one member being a former gang member, in Los Angeles that takes on the city’s most dangerous gangs.
MasterChef, the summer cooking competition series starring Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot, is back for its fifth summer season on Monday, May 19 at 8 p.m. Last summer, the series averaged 5 million viewers, a 2.6 18-49 demo rating, a 2.4 rating in the 25-54 demo and a 1.7 in the 18-34 demo for its Wednesday 8 p.m. episodes. A second episode on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. averaged 5.6 million viewers, a 2.8 18-49 demo rating, a 2.7 among 25-54 viewers and a 1.9 rating in 18-34.
New reality series I Wanna Marry ‘Harry’ premieres on Tuesday, May 27 at 8 p.m. Reminiscent of past Fox hit reality series Joe Millionaire, in which an average American guy pretended to be rich as he searched for a bride, this series has an average British “bloke” pretending to be royalty as 12 single American women try to impress him and become his “princess.”
Fox summer staple So You Think You Can Dance returns for its 11th season on Wednesday, May 28 at 8 p.m. Last summer SYTYCD averaged 4.2 million viewers, a 1.5 18-49 demo rating, a 1.8 among viewers 25-54 and a 1.3 rating in the 18-34 demo.
Fox will also return summer reality series Hotel Hell for a second season, premiering it on Monday, July 21 at 9 p.m. The series, which also stars Ramsay, first aired in the summer of 2012, but did not return last summer. In its first season, it averaged about 5 million viewers in a short season that began in early August and ended in early September.
NBC’s summer programming kicks off on Thursday, May 22, when comedy competition series Last ComicStanding returns for its eighth season with a two-hour premiere from 9-11 p.m. It will then air on subsequent Thursdays from 10-11 p.m. NBC aired this series during the summers from 2003-10 (except for 2005, when it aired in the fall). After a three-summer hiatus, it’s back with a new host, JB Smoove. Judges for the latest edition include Roseanne Barr, Keenan Ivory Wayans and Russell Peters.
American Ninja Warrior returns on Monday, May 26 with a two-hour premiere at 9 p.m., where it will air through the summer. The series is entering its sixth season, but this will be its third during the summer on NBC. Last summer it averaged 5.1 million viewers, a 1.6 18-49 demo rating, a 1.9 25-54 demo rating and a 1.3 18-34 demo rating.
NBC’s third returning summer series, and up until last summer the most-watched broadcast network summer series, America’s Got Talent, returns on Tuesday May 27, also with a two-hour premiere. Entering its ninth summer season on NBC, the variety competition series, hosted by Nick Cannon with judges Howard Stern, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and Mel B, will try to top last summer’s live-plus-same-day numbers. Last summer the series averaged 9.9 million viewers on Tuesday nights with a 2.6 among the 18-49 demo, a 3.2 among viewers 25-54 and a 1.9 among 18-34 viewers. Its average numbers for its Wednesday night telecasts were 10.4 million viewers, a 2.4 rating in the 18-49 demo, a 3.1 in 25-54 and a 1.7 in 18-34.
Leading out of America’s Got Talent at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, May 27, will be scripted drama The NightShift, which follows the irreverent staff who work the overnight shift at a San Antonio hospital. The staff knows how to balance work and play, but clashes with new management that is instituting cost cutbacks that can put patients at risk.
New scripted sitcom Undateable premieres on Thursday, May 29 at 9 p.m. Each week the series will air two half-hour episodes between 9-10 p.m. The series is about a group of guys and one recently divorced woman who hang out at a bar, offering each other advice about dating and other problems.
On Friday, May 30, NBC premieres another scripted drama, Crossbones, at 10 p.m. The series takes place in the 1700s and stars John Malkovich as Blackbeard the pirate.
On Wednesday, June 25 at 10 p.m., NBC will premiere its third new summer scripted series, TaxiBrooklyn. This series is a procedural action-comedy that follows the relationship between a streetwise Marseilles-born New York taxi driver and a New York detective, who become unofficial partners.
NBC will premiere a pair of new scripted comedies on Thursday, July 10 – Welcome to Sweden at 9 p.m. and Working the Engels at 9:30. Among the executive producers of Welcome to Sweden are Amy and Greg Poehler. The series follows a couple, Bruce Evans (Greg Poehler) and Emma Wiik (Josephine Bornebusch), who move back to Emma’s native Sweden where Bob must deal with culture clashes and try to win over Emma’s very Swedish family.
Working the Engels centers on a family who must band together to keep their heads above water after the lawyer father passes away, leaving a large amount of debt. They all decide to run his storefront practice, but only one daughter is qualified to practice law.
NBC also has one new non-scripted series scheduled with Food Fighters, which will premiere on Tuesday, July 22 at 8 p.m. Food Fighters, hosted by Adam Richman, is a cooking competition series in which amateur cooks compete against professional chefs.