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scatterplot chart of fall premiere ratings

Television

Fall Premiere Ratings Recap

This fall’s premiere ratings paint the same picture with darker colors. As of Thursday, all but two have premiered, ranging from a .4 to a 1.6 demo. While live viewers in the 18-49 continue to decrease, this is the first fall with only one rookie premiering at a 1.0.

The scatter-plot in the featured image shows the ratings for all premieres, while the table below includes all of the shows that have premiered this fall from the big 4 (with second showings through Wednesday). Take note of how few shows premiered to 1.0 or above (and held onto that in their second showing), and how many are newbies (italicized). They averaged a .7, half of the rating from last year’s new crop.

ABC CBS FOX NBC
A Million Little Things 1 All Rise 0.7 0.6 911 1.6 1.6 Bluff City Law 0.8 0.7
American Housewife 0.7 Blue Bloods 0.6 Almost Family 0.7 Chicago Fire 1.1 1.1
blackish 0.9 Bob <3’s Abishola 0.9 0.7 Bless the Harts 0.7 Chicago Med 1 1.1
Bless This Mess 0.9 0.7 Bull 0.7 0.6 Bob’s Burgers 0.7 Chicago PD 1 1
Emergence 0.8 0.6 Carol’s Second Act 0.7 Empire 1.1 New Amsterdam 1 0.8
Fresh off the Boat 0.5 Evil 0.6 Family Guy 0.7 Sunnyside 0.4
Grey’s Anatomy 1.4 FBI 0.9 1 Prodigal Son 1 1 Superstore 0.7
HTGAWM 0.6 God Friended Me 0.9 The Resident 0.8 0.7 SVU 0.7
mixed-ish 0.9 0.7 Hawaii Five 0 0.7 The Simpsons 0.9 The Good Place 0.8
Modern Family 1.1 1.1 Magnum PI 0.6 This is Us 1.8 1.7
Schooled 0.8 0.8 Mom 1.1 Perfect Harmony 0.5
Single Parents 0.7 0.7 NCIS 1.3 1.3
Stumptown 0.7 0.7 NCIS LA 0.8
The Conners 1.3 1.2 NCIS NOLA 0.7 0.7
The Goldbergs 1.1 1 SEAL Team 0.7
The Good Doctor 1 0.9 SWAT 0.6
The Rookie 0.7 The Neighborhood 0.9 0.9
The Unicorn 0.8
Young Sheldon 1.1
Average 0.87 0.81 0.95 0.95

Prodigal Son is the only show this year to premiere at a 1.0 compared to last year’s multiple. On the other hand, except for two, the remaining shows returning above 1.0 are in their sixth or later season with two ending (all ending shows are crossed-out). However, these shows won’t end with the same demo as their fall showings by May. Adding in cancelled Madam Secretary and aging The Blacklist after this weekend won’t do anything to help.

Short Orders and Schedule Spackle

What about the shows that didn’t even make it to the 1.0? Before last year, a few things happened. Shows that premiered poorly and did not stabilize aired through their first episode order without receiving more (usually cancelled), were pulled off the schedule to air the rest later (cancelled), or just pulled off entirely (cancelled). Networks could use various returning shows as schedule spackle to fill spots that had cracked. Now, the networks don’t have enough new shows filming to replace the poorly premiering and pulling returning shows from midseason into the fall isn’t the best option either. Since viewers drop in the spring, most of the mid-season shows will also premiere poorly.

Sunnyside, for example, had the lowest premiere this fall only to be beat by CW shows and only had 10 episodes ordered (according to SpoilerTV’s table using press releases and news articles). Does NBC let all 10 air? Do they stop filming the rest of the season in a few weeks if the show dips? (They did that with The Player ending with its 9th episode in 2015.) Do they just take the show off the air in two weeks and air repeats? I highly doubt the latter occurs, but at .4 (and below?) it’s not getting renewed.

Similarly, the CBS comedies on Tuesday and Thursday all premiered poorly and Young Sheldon, without TBBT leading in, has dipped half an entire demo point. Fortunately for anyone involved with the show, it’s already got a fourth season coming. Unlike ABC, NBC, and FOX, all the new CBS shows received the usual 13 episode order, with an assumed back 9 to come, if successful. So CBS could choose to wait out the newbies’ first nine to thirteen episodes and then the shows would disappear.

In attempts to save money and strategic choices about air-time, FOX ordered seasons ranging in length for its new and returning shows. 911, for example, is airing 13 this fall-winter, and spring shows are getting 10 to 13 episodes. NBC did order six more scripts for Bluff City Law, but started with 10 episodes. All this means that the networks don’t have much to move around to fill poorly rated spots, and ultimately must make decisions about new shows knowing that new shows just don’t premiere well anymore.

Non-shifting Demo and Advertising Economics

Now that the new normal is that shows aren’t moved or taken off the schedule, networks must watch their poorly premiering series either stabilize at that low rating or move even lower. Likely, none will stabilize higher. In the long term, more shows that are doing awful in the demo will continue to return since they’ve already made it to their second season or higher, and networks will continue to order shows with the same old plot-lines. Unless the demo ever shifts. After all, the median age of Big 4 viewers was 58.8 with it going as high as 70+ for CBS’ Blue Bloods. In fact, the only shows to even have a median aged viewer in the demo are the FOX’ animation nation shows! It’s absolutely ridiculous that there’s no push to change the demo when we know that older people watch TV and have purchasing power. Is there any other business where advertisers knowingly spend so much advertising to the wrong audience?

To be fair, the price of advertising is still increasing which keeps total ad revenue from moving drastically down. Networks must diversify where their profits come from. That can include the usual re-transmission fees locally and internationally, from studio earnings, and in the long-term syndication. Though syndication has started to slow down a bit especially for CBS which used to get most everything on-air elsewhere in the US. (It’s why Scorpion died before hitting a sixth season.) However, this is the first time that the rookie class overwhelmingly underperformed. In the past, a few shows would premiere high and stabilize down a few tenths, but none of these ratings are optimistic.

Especially, because as the median age of viewers continues to climb, the demo continues to slide its way down TV mountain, far from its Peak. I’m sure in May when we look at all the data points, well, the current league average of .89 is gonna be much closer to a .75. Still, marketers will pay up for the dwindling rating points, even if the actual live viewers are as old as The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Ratings data from Showbuzz Daily.

Seher
Written By

Seher obsesses over show ratings and usually writes about media representation issues. Otherwise, she's reading away for her graduate program in anthropology.

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