By Alec Stern, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 7, 2013
In the past, the first week of the broadcast-television season was one of the most exciting times for avid fans. After months of speculation, stemming from the May announcements of the network’s new schedules, premiere week finally allows us to explore new shows and reunite with our beloved ones. Recently, however, premiere week has been marred. Instead of being filled with enthusiasm and promise, television executives and ratings enthusiasts now fear the worst. Is this the year broadcast will crumble? How low can the ratings go? What does this mean for the future of television? Despite these lingering questions, this year’s outcome was quite surprising. Now, with premiere week behind us, there may actually be a glimmer of hope.
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Anxiety over the future of the broadcast networks is warranted. Over the past decade, broadcast ratings have been falling while cable ratings have been climbing. Not only that, but the prominence of DVR, “binge-watching” and more originals outside of television (including Netflix and Hulu Plus) have all contributed to broadcast’s continuing decline. This trend even led NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt to declare, “At this point in our business, flat is the new up.”
Though this may be true, broadcast networks do still rule the television landscape. While broadcast’s slipping numbers and blockbuster ratings for a handful of cable shows, such as AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” have led people to proclaim broadcast’s death, the Big Four networks (CBS, NBC, FOX and ABC) still draw the most consistently high numbers — night in and night out.
Luckily, this past week’s premieres were surprisingly successful, inspiring cautious optimism for what’s to come.
Each network had at least one very big series premiere. Leading the pack was ABC, whose highly anticipated “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” won its Tuesday 8 p.m. timeslot with a 4.7 18-49 rating. Not only did “S.H.I.E.L.D.” convincingly beat TV’s No. 1 drama, “NCIS,” but it was also the highest drama premiere since 2009. On NBC, “The Blacklist” premiered to a big 3.8 18-49 rating and 12.58 million viewers. FOX has found success with “Sleepy Hollow,” which premiered one week early to a 3.5 18-49 rating. Conversely, FOX’s short-lived “The Mob Doctor” opened to a 1.5 at the same time last year. Even better, “Sleepy Hollow” held onto much of its audience in week two (3.1 rating), despite the onslaught of premieres and heavy competition. For CBS, “The Crazy Ones,” coming off of a monster “Big Bang Theory” premiere, earned a 3.9 rating and was seen by 15.52 million viewers.
Veteran series also continued to deliver over the week. “Grey’s Anatomy” ’s 3.4 premiere rating may seem low compared to the show’s blockbuster history, but for a show in its 10th season, that number is practically a slam dunk. FOX’s “Bones,” now in its ninth season, held onto its 2.3 rating from last year. Both “NCIS” iterations maintained last year’s momentum, while fellow CBS series “How I Met Your Mother” began its final season very strong. Over on NBC, the fifth season of “The Voice” garnered its highest rating since the season two premiere and “Sunday Night Football” continues to be TV’s highest rated program.
Of course, it’s never all good news. FOX’s Tuesday comedy block, led by “New Girl” in the 9 p.m. hour, drew miniscule numbers in week two despite OK premieres earlier in September. Additionally, most of CBS’s new series and revamped schedule has had trouble finding its footing — worth noting, given the network’s utter dominance in past seasons. ABC also had to endure “Lucky 7,” a lottery drama that premiered DOA Tuesday night.
So what do all of these numbers mean? Most importantly, it proves that viewers are still most tuned into what’s going on in broadcast; that with intriguing premises and solid buzz, these networks can still bring in exceptionally higher numbers than anything on cable or elsewhere.