MBPT Spotlight: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the 2014-15 Broadcast Season

The 2014-2015 broadcast television regular season has come to an end with NBC winning the adults 18-49 demo race for the second straight year, this time edging out CBS thanks to NFL Sunday Night Football along with multiple weekly airings of The Voice.

Despite losses in both viewers and in the 18-49 demo this season, CBS maintained its supremacy in households, total viewership and adults 25-54, narrowing edging out NBC in the that demo, based on Nielsen data that includes regularly scheduled programming.

Among the Big 4, ABC was the most improved network this season seeing gains across most demos, including adults 18-49, while CBS, NBC and Fox saw red.

The CW also had a very good season with significant increases in both the adults 18-49 and male demos. While the network's numbers are small, they seem to be on an upward trajectory and this bodes well for next season.

Fox had another rough season with most of its shows shedding viewers, most notably American Idol, and was saved from even larger overall declines by the strong performance of freshman hit Empire.

The five broadcast networks were flat in total viewership overall, slid 6% in adults 18-49 and fell 4% in adults 25-54 vs. the 2013-14 season. Actually, that's not too bad considering most top tier cable networks were down double-digits in the 18-49 demo this season.

Below is a network by network recap of how each of the five broadcast networks performed over the course of the regular season.


Of the Big Four networks, ABC gets the award for the most improved network for the 2014-15 season. Not only was ABC the only network to see gains on adults 18-49, but if we take sports out of the primetime equation and just count entertainment programming, ABC would have won the season in the demo. ABC also won the May sweep in the demo for the second year straight.

How did they do it? The network’s Shonda Rhimes shows, also known as TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday) were one of the biggest stories of the season. With Grey’s Anatomy leading off the night, followed by powerhouse Scandal, ABC added another Shonda drama — How to Get Away with Murder starring Oscar nominee Viola Davis. With Scandal as its lead-in, Murder proved to be a trifecta for the network and “Shondaland Thursday” became one of the most talked about on social media week-after-week.

Then towards the end of the season came the demise of McDreamy on Grey’s Anatomy (which was a shocker!) and it sent ratings up and social media on fire. ABC was up nearly 20% on Thursdays in the demo this season and it delivered its best average for the night on both total viewers and adults 18-49 in five years.

The Good: ABC’s attempt at more diversity this past season also proved very successful, with Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat and the above mentioned Murder all keepers. The network’s only misfire was the Hispanic-targeted sitcom Cristela on Friday nights.

In other good news, the older-skewing Dancing with the Stars remained a solid performer (albeit down season-to-season) in the demo while Modern Family continued to be the No. 1 show on Wednesday nights in the all-important adult 18-49 demo. The Goldbergs also seemed to catch on in its second season, seeing growth at 8:30pm on Wednesdays.

The Bad: ABC still has some holes in their schedule, particularly on Tuesday nights where they launched three failed shows this past season. Freshman comedies Selfie and Manhattan Love Story barely survived till winter, while new drama Forever didn’t last long. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which anchored the night last season, may do respectable ratings in adults 18-49 (especially with delayed viewing counted in) but it failed to use its powers to pull in overall viewership in its second season. The network’s Sunday night also weakened with Once Upon a Time seeing ratings dips, Revenge ending and Resurrection faltering in its sophomore turn and also not returning.

Bottom line: “Once upon a time” ABC didn’t have such a positive story but they now seem to have “resurrected” their schedule and gotten “revenge” on the naysayers. Maybe they are finally learning “how to get” some strong ratings.


CBS continued to reign as the No. 1 network in total viewership, a title which CEO Les Moonves always loves to tout. CBS didn’t launch all that many new shows last season but mostly had success with those they did launch. Scorpion, NCIS: New Orleans, The Odd Couple and Madam Secretary all did fairly well in both the demo and viewers. There were of course misses with Stalker and The McCarthys.

The Good: The addition of Thursday Night Football has been a definite win for them and has helped them stave off some overall audience loss. The network still has the No. 1 drama on TV with NCIS, the No. 1 comedy with Big Bang Theory and the No. 1 newsmagazine with 60 Minutes but has seen some of its long-standing programming weaken slightly this season in both the demo and viewers.

The success of new Monday night Scorpion was big news for the older-skewing network as it emerged as one of the season’s biggest successes and helped bring in some younger viewers to the network, a push they will continue to build upon next season. But the biggest success had to be NCIS: New Orleans which retained most of kingpin NCIS’ lead-in and which was the most-watched non-sports first-year series in total viewership on any network in 10 years (since Desperate Housewives bowed on ABC in 2004). CBS also had some success with new comedy The Odd Couple but it was mostly because of its Big Bang Theory lead-in. There’s doubt that this show could stand on its own, but it did emerge as the top new comedy of the season which is good news for Matthew Perry, who hasn’t had a hit since Friends went off the air in 2004.

Speaking of Big Bang Theory, it remained TV’s top-rated comedy in adults 18-49 and total viewers, which means that CBS has had the No. 1 comedy for 11 straight seasons (beginning in 2004-5 with Everybody Loves Raymond). NCIS also continued its run as the No. 1 drama for six straight seasons in total viewers, despite some losses of cast members. Hey, they still have Mark Harmon whom many “moms” seem to love.

The Bad: The network was down 6.5% in adults 18-49 this season, and while they still stand atop the mountain in total viewership, some of the dramas are starting to show their age and are seeing dips in the ratings, as are their comedies. These CBS shows are still among the top rated, but they are starting to wane a bit. The network also has gotten dinged a bit for relying on too many off-shoots of their successful dramas, CSI: New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Cyber, and NCIS: New Orleans, along with off-shoots like Criminal Minds' spin-off Suspect Behavior. In their defense, these off-shoots have a better chance at succeeding (although success is not guaranteed) and for the network “stability” is what they’re all about.

Bottom line:  CBS didn’t create much of a “big bang” in the ratings last season, but they were “survivors” and won all but the adult 18-49 demo after an “amazing race” to the finish line at season's end. Unfortunately for them, NBC ended up winning the demo race.


NBC came out victorious this season in the 18-49 demo thanks to the un-stoppable action of Sunday Night Football and two cycles and of two nights a week of The Voice. Even without the Super Bowl counted into the final tallies, NBC was able to edge out CBS for the adult 18-49 crown despite being down 12% from last season when NBC had the Olympics. In total viewership, this was the second straight season that NBC has finished as the No. 2 network, and the second time it has finished higher than fourth place in the post Friends era (2003-04). However, despite all this good news, NBC wasn’t without its problems this season. The network’s story is one of the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good: NBC loves the Windy City and has had pretty good success with its Chicago shows: Chicago Fire and Chicago PD, often winning their timeslots in adults 18-49. In addition, long-running Dick Wolf drama Law & Order: SVU had its largest overall audience in four years. The Voice lost some steam but remained the No. 1 unscripted program on TV in adults 18-49, while NFL Sunday Night Football ruled as the top rated show of the season among all viewer and adult demo categories. And can I give a shout-out to Grimm? Yes it’s not high-rated but it does reasonably well on Friday nights with adults 18-49 especially with delayed viewership is counted in.

The Bad: Most of  the new fall offerings were a bust. State of Affairs, Marry Me, Bad Judge, A to Z, One Big Happy, The Slap and Constantine failed to produce ratings. In fact, their only fall launch that will make it to next season is Wednesday night drama The Mysteries of Laura, and that is by no means a hit, especially with adults 18-49 where it pulls in just over a 1.0 rating. The move of The Blacklist to Thursday nights from its comfortable Monday night post-Voice position was also a big story as its ratings plunged by more than 25%. NBC obviously wanted to monetize The Blacklist’s strong adult 18-49 audience numbers on a night highly sought after by advertisers, but against Scandal on ABC and without a strong lead-in, the move hurt the show, maybe irreparably.

The Ugly: Was NBC really the network of “Must See TV” Thursday for two decades? NBC has been struggling miserably on Thursday nights for many seasons and this past year was no exception. Their attempt at resurrecting a successful comedy on the night was met with a huge thud as both Bad Judge and A To Z were among the lowest rated and most panned new launches of the season. Tuesday night comedy launch Marry Me was also a disaster even with The Voice as a lead-in. It seems that NBC can’t get comedy right these days. Only sophomore comedy Undateable will make it back onto the schedule next season, but certainly not because it pulled in ratings. In fact, late night seems to be the only place where comedy is working on the network (thanks to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live).

Bottom line: NBC certainly has its strengths and weaknesses but should be applauded for its victory two years in a row in adults 18-49. Still, it is a mystery not just to Laura, but to all of us why NBC can’t get a hit comedy. It’s a "grimm” situation but not a “state of affairs” that can’t be changed. The NFL continues to score a touchdown for the peacock network and they were certainly able to sing the praises of The Voice and pin some ratings medals on the bravest of Chicago.


Can one hit turn a network around? Empire, EmpireEmpireEmpire ... that’s all we have to say (or Fox has to say).

The last two seasons have been very rough going for Fox, with powerhouse American Idol dropping 25-30% each year in the demo, while The X Factor didn’t even make it back onto the schedule after falling 30% the previous season in adults 18-49.  Adding to the misery, most of the Fox schedule (Bones, Sleepy Hollow, New Girl, etc..) including its long-running Sunday night comedy block, has seen notable drops in ratings the past two seasons, leaving the network scarred and with much rebuilding to do.

In the fall it looked like Fox’s luck hadn’t changed one bit with freshman entries Utopia, Red Band Society and drama Gracepoint pulling in anemic ratings. In fact, there was only one bright spot — Gotham, the preface to the Batman legacy which finished as the No. 2 new broadcast drama in adults 18-49 and No. 1 in all key male demos.

The Good: Then came midseason ... and the waters parted and there stood the Holy Grail ... Empire that is! This show came out of nowhere and emerged as the No. 1 entertainment series in broadcast television in the all-important adult 18-49 demographic. It grew every week in total viewership and grew almost every week in adults 18-49 finishing with the highest average for any broadcast drama in the demo since Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy in 2007-08, and the highest for any new drama since these shows debuted in 2004-5. Empire rose from an already impressive 9.9 million viewers in its debut to a whopping 17.6 million for its finale. Adding to its good news in midseason, the network also had some modest success with Sunday night freshman comedy The Last Man on Earth, especially among adults 18-34.

Other good news, although it’s a bit of a reach, the network ended the season down just 11% in adults 18-49, and 13% in total viewership. That story would have been a lot worse if not for Empire. In addition, Brooklyn Nine-Nine was up 9% in adults 18-49 season-to-season, while MasterChef Junior was the only reality series on network television to be up versus last season.

Bottom line: To say the least, Fox hopes to “keep it movin" and be the “conqueror” of more adult 18-49 ratings next season. Hopefully that will be “good enough” for now. All we can hear the folks at Fox saying this season as the ratings came in for Empire was ... “You’re So Beautiful.” (Note: If you haven’t watched Empire this was probably hieroglyphics, but it uses all the names of all the hit singles of the show).

The CW

Can a network turn its ratings around in a flash? With ratings up 9% in adults 18-49 and 10% in viewership, The CW had a very good season indeed. Much of the network’s success came with lighting speed with the addition of The Flash, the latest superhero saga to join the network’s arsenal. The freshman series was The CW’s most-viewed ever averaging over 3 million viewers on LIVE+SD but over 6 million viewers an episode (LIVE+7 days) once all weekly viewing is counted in.

The CW also got its first foray into the world of awards this season, as its freshman show Jane the Virgin took home a Golden Globe award (best actress for Gina Rodriguez). While not a huge ratings hit, the hour-long comedy helped provide substantial timeslot gains for the network: up 33% and about 40% on adults 18-34 and adults 18-49, respectively, versus the year-ago Monday 9-10 p.m. programming.

Other bright spots included drama Arrow shooting up this season on Wednesdays thanks to some cross-over storylines with new hit The Flash.

The CW is still small in ratings scope and has a lot of growing to do, but if this past season is any indication it is on its way up.

Bottom line: It was almost "supernatural” as ratings shot up in a “flash” this season, while The CW is no longer a "virgin" in the awards race. Superheroes “reign”ed this season and will provide a “model” for the CW going forward.