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MBPT Spotlight: Broadcast Premiere Week Yields Potential Hits But Problems Still Lurk

What a difference a year makes in broadcast television. While viewership will level out over the next several weeks, a look at premiere week 2013 finds five new primetime scripted series were among the Top 10 of all scripted shows in the 18-49 demo, compared to only one in the first week of last season.

Billie Gold, VP and director of buying/programming research at Carat, says each network should have some optimism about their new shows coming out of premiere week because each network had at least one series that “broke out” in its initial airing.

Still, she adds, “it’s hard to say a show is a hit off the bat just because it got samples, as some shows start huge and then quickly fade. Remember Joey or Whoopi? And look what happened to NBC’s Revolution last season, ending at half the rating of where it started.”

On the other side of the ledger, several new shows did not do as well as expected, which pulled down the networks ratings overall. NBC was the only network to show an increase in the 18-49 demo for the first week compared to last season and emerged as the early leader. Overall, the five broadcast networks averaged a 2.5 during the first week, according to Nielsen data, which is flat compared to last year.

ABC’s freshman series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the highest rated new series in the 18-49 demo, and ranked third overall with a 4.7 rating. It finished behind the top-rated CBS veteran hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory (6.1) and the Monday edition of NBC’s singing competition series The Voice (5.1). Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actually tied the Tuesday edition of The Voice which also scored a 4.7 demo rating.

Not counting the two editions of The Voice separately, other first-year series ranking among the Top 10 in the 18-49 demo for premiere week were CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones (3.8), NBC drama The Blacklist (3.8), Fox drama Sleepy Hollow (3.1) and ABC sitcom The Goldbergs (3.1).

During last season’s premiere week, NBC’s new sci-fi drama Revolution made the Top 10 with a 3.5 demo rating. The only other new scripted series among the Top 20 was ABC sitcom The Neighbors (3.2). Next, ranked in the mid-20s was NBC comedy Go On (2.7), followed a few places down by CBS drama Vegas (2.5). Revolution and The Neighbors were both renewed, while Go On and Vegas were eventually canceled.

NBC Out in Front

After the first full week of the 2013-14 season, NBC was averaging a 3.1, up from a 2.9 last season, a 6.9% increase. Gold points out that NBC is up from what was a strong start during last season’s first week because the network premiered several of its shows prior to official premiere week so audience levels for some had already settled in from their earlier sampling. The network also got a blockbuster premiere audience this season for The Blacklist, leading out of The Voice.

Next in the 18-49 demo race following the first week of the season was ABC with a 2.3 rating, flat from last season. CBS and Fox were tied with a 2.2 demo rating for the week, CBS was down 8.3% from a 2.4 last season, while Fox was down 15.4% from a 2.5. The CW was averaging a 0.27, which was also flat from last season, but the network did not premiere any of its fall lineup, new shows or returning.

While CBS was again the most-watched network in primetime for the first week, its average viewership dropped slightly from 10.66 million viewers to 10.36 million, a decline of 2.8%. NBC was second in viewers, averaging 9.66 million, up 19% from last year’s average of 8.12 million. ABC was third in viewers averaging 7.99 million, down 4.1% from last year’s 8.34 million, while Fox was down 13.6% to 5.91 million viewers, from 6.84 million during last year’s premiere week.

While Fox looks like it has a potential hit with Sleepy Hollow, its new male-skewing sitcoms Dads and Brooklyn Nine-Nine did not get off to a good start. In fact, Fox and CBS are the only two networks that showed declines in every key adult demo.

ABC, meanwhile, got an influx of male viewers who tuned into the premiere episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For the first week of the season, ABC was up 11% among men 18-49 to a 1.9 and up 4.8% to a 2.2 among men 25-54. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. clearly brought in younger male viewers.

New Age Shows
The youngest skewing new series during premiere week was Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine which had a median age audience of 41, followed by Fox’s Dads at 43, and both ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Fox’s MasterChef Junior at 45.

Other median ages for the new freshman shows were: ABC’s The Goldbergs, 48; Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, 49; ABC sitcom Trophy Wife, 50; CBS sitcom Mom, 52; ABC drama Lucky 7 and NBC’s The Blacklist, 53; NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show and ABC sitcom Back in the Game, 54; ABC drama Betrayal and CBS’ The Crazy Ones, 55.

Among the returning shows, the Fox animation block series posted the lowest median age audiences, which were in the 32-33 year-old range. The youngest non-animation series during premiere week were Fox sitcoms New Girl (36) and The Mindy Project (37).

The oldest skewing shows among the returning series during premiere week were: CBS’ 60 Minutes, 63; ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and CBS dramas Blue Bloods and The Good Wife, all 62; and CBS’ 48 Hours, The Mentalist, NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles, all 61.

NBC and Fox had no shows during premiere week averaging a median age of 60 or older.

CBS saw some erosion to its returning Monday night sitcoms during premiere week, and its new Monday night comedy Mom and new drama Hostages opened poorly and didn’t improve this past Monday.

“CBS is seeing some slippage for the second season in a row and has to contend with a once mighty Monday night that is hemorrhaging viewers,” Gold says. “The changes the network has made this season, pushing Mike & Molly to midseason and moving Hawaii Five-0 to Friday, have not had a positive effect on the night. And new sitcoms We Are Men and Mom are extremely weak.”

Gold adds: “The good news for CBS is that The Big Bang Theory is still as big as ever, giving a huge lead-in last week to Robin Williams’ new comedy The Crazy Ones, while its Tuesday night of drama has returned strong.”

Coming off a rough 2012-13 season, Fox also is down double-digits in both viewers and its 18-49 rating. Gold says while Sleepy Hollow is a bright spot, Fox has problems almost everywhere else on its schedule. “The X Factor is down 25%-30% in key demos versus last season and its Sunday night animation block is fading fast,” Gold says. “Fox trouble early is never good.”

Gold also points out that it usually takes about four weeks to get a clear picture of how the networks might fare for the entire fourth quarter. But history shows that while series can start strong and eventually tank, it’s much rarer for a series to start with limited viewership and grow into a hit. It happens on cable, but over there, the definition of what makes a hit doesn’t always coincide with killer viewership and demo ratings.