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Broadcast Earns Its Keep | @andreamorabito

Premiere Week has become especially brutal in the age of changing viewing habits, but after three freshman series opened to what could be called breakout ratings last week—ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., CBS’ The Crazy Ones and NBC’s The Blacklist— network suits were breathing a collective sigh of relief.

“It’s good for network TV that some shows are bringing in an audience again after a tough season last year,” one broadcast exec said.

S.H.I.E.L.D., unsurprisingly, was the top performer, with a 4.7 in the coveted 18-49 demo, making it the best drama launch in nearly four years. Robin Williams’ The Crazy Ones converted its massive The Big Bang Theory lead-in to a 4.0 rating and 15.6 million viewers, the largest audience for a new show this season. The Blacklist drew a strong 3.8 rating, though it was short of the 4.1 rating Revolution put up in the post-Voice slot last year.

A Mixed Comedy Bag

Besides Crazy Ones, the comedy results were more mixed. S.H.I.E.L.D. lead-out The Goldbergs fared the best, pulling a 3.1 rating and vastly improving the time period for ABC. But though S.H.I.E.L.D. drew a 54% male audience, much higher than average for the female-skewing net, that likely contributed to a downward slide the rest of the night, with Trophy Wife losing 26% of The Goldbergs’ audience. By 10 p.m., new drama Lucky 7 premiered to just a 1.3 in the demo and 4.4 million viewers, the lowest debut of the week.

CBS’ second new comedy had just a so-so open, with the latest entry from the Chuck Lorre brain trust, Mom, posting a 2.5 rating, just a tenth above last year’s Partners, which was canceled after six episodes. In fact, Mondays could turn out to be troubling for CBS this fall. While the final season of How I Met Your Mother returned on par, 2 Broke Girls fell 24% year-over-year, and the network’s lone new drama, the serialized Hostages, opened to a 1.8, losing its first head-to-head with The Blacklist in one of the season’s more closely watched matchups.

Even CBS’ established dramas like Criminal Minds, CSI, NCIS, NCIS: LA and Person of Interest were all down by double-digits, leading a rival exec to speculate that the “changing viewing habits of older generations are starting to hit them a bit more.”

ABC could be facing a similar decline on Wednesday nights. New comedy Back in the Game posted a 2.2 rating, respectable considering it improved its 8:30 p.m. time slot by 16% and lost only 8% of its lead-in, The Middle. But Modern Family, fresh off its fourth Emmy win, surprised some rival execs by falling 24%, meaning the network’s top launch pad may be starting to show its age.

Fox seems to have a success story in Sleepy Hollow, which launched Sept. 16 to a 3.5 rating and held up impressively at a 3.1 in week two despite stiffer competition—a welcome change for the net that brought you Mob Doctor last year. That enthusiasm was tempered by the steep (though expected) drop offs for Fox’s new Tuesday comedies in week two, up against S.H.I.E.L.D. After decent premieres, Dads and Brooklyn Nine-Nine were both down more than 30%, making subsequent weeks’ performance key.

Righting the Ship at NBC

NBC had perhaps the best story of premiere week, up 28% in the 18-49 demo and up 41% among total viewers through four nights of the new season. Besides the strong bow for Blacklist, The Voice returned not just with its four original coaches, but up 15% in the ratings over last fall, a nice bonus for the network.

Helping NBC’s case were notable time-period improvements, including Tuesday at 10 p.m., where sophomore Chicago Fire gained an impressive 47% over Parenthood last fall, and Wednesday at 9 p.m., where Law & Order: SVU, entering its 15th season, defied age to climb 29% to its best rating in two years. And though the 2.1 for The Michael J. Fox Show wasn’t a breakout, it held 100% of its rating from its first episode to its second and improved the Thursday 9 p.m. hour by 94% in total viewers.

Making broadcast overall feel good was the competitive Tuesday at 8 p.m. time slot, which saw S.H.I.E.L.D., The Voice and NCIS draw a collective 44.8 million viewers, showing that for all the buzz of cable, broadcast still knows how to amass a large audience.

“That to me represents what network TV can be— three strong shows and plenty of room; there’s plenty of audience out there for us,” said another network exec. “The viewing audience may be splintered but when we do the right thing, we get them back.”