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MBPT Spotlight: This Season’s Top Freshman Five Are Keeping Broadcasters Happy

Through the first month of the 2013-14 broadcast primetime season, the top five freshman series are drawing millions more viewers and better 18-49 demo ratings than the top five freshman series the broadcast networks aired at the same point last season.

In fact, the strong start by that handful of series is offsetting some 18-49 demo declines by some of the nets most popular veteran series. Among the Top 10 returning broadcast primetime series, only CBS' The Big Bang Theory and NBC’s The Voice have not seen their 18-49 demo ratings go down this season compared to the first month of last season.

This season’s top five freshman series out of the gate in the 18-49 demo—ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (3.4), NBC’s The Blacklist (3.3), CBS’ The Millers (3.2) and The Crazy Ones (2.9) and Fox’s Sleepy Hollow (2.9)—have already been given full-season orders and all seem like good bets to come back next season.

Rounding out this season’s top 10 freshman series list in th 18-49 demo are ABC’s Super Fun Night (2.6) and The Goldbergs (2.2), CBS’ Mom (2.2), ABC’s Back in the Game (1.9) and NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show (1.9).

Unlike the top five, none in that second five is guaranteed to be coming back next season. The Goldbergs got great sampling in its premiere, drawing a 3.1 18-49 rating, but is now averaging only a 2.2, which is not promising. As for full-season orders, The Michael J. Fox Show was given a full-season order before the pilot was even filmed, so NBC is committed to keeping it on at least for this entire season, or taking a huge financial hit.

Last season’s top five freshman series in the 18-49 demo after the first month included NBC’s Revolution (3.3) and Go On (2.5), ABC’s Nashville (2.4), CBS’ Vegas (2.2) and a tie between Fox’s The Mindy Project (2.1) and CBS’ Partners (2.1). Three of those six series—Revolution, Nashville and Mindy—returned this season, although Mindy’s return was a head scratcher and the series this season is doing paltry ratings.

Rounding out last season’s top 10 freshman series in the 18-49 demo were ABC’s The Neighbors (1.9), NBC’s The New Normal (1.9) and ABC’s Last Resort (1.9) and 666 Park Avenue (1.9). Among those, only The Neighbors returned this season, but ABC moved it from Wednesday night to Fridays where it is averaging a cable-like 1.0 18-49 rating through the first four weeks.

The only other fall freshman series from last year to make it back this season was NBC’s Chicago Fire, which opened last season with a 1.7 18-49 rating for the first four weeks.

Lesser Fortunes
This season, four freshman series have already been canceled during the first month—ABC’s Lucky 7 (which was averaging a 1.0 in the 18-49 demo), CBS’ We Are Men (1.9), and NBC’s Ironside (1.2) and Welcome to the Family (1.0).

The freshman series struggling after only four weeks include ABC’s Betrayal, which is averaging a 1.1 demo rating on high-TV-viewing Sundays; NBC’s Sean Saves the World (1.2); Fox’s Dads (1.4) and Junior MasterChef (1.4); CBS’ Hostages (1.4); ABC’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (1.4); Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine (1.6) and ABC’s Trophy Wife (1.6).

Fox did just give Brooklyn Nine-Nine a full-season order, but that may be just because fellow freshman sitcom Dads may not make it, and the network is determined to establish a comedy night on Tuesdays.

As far as viewers go, this season’s top five freshman series are dwarfing last year’s top five. Leading the pack is CBS sitcom The Millers which is averaging 12.4 million viewers through four weeks. Of course, leading out of The Big Bang Theory with its average 18.2 million viewers on Thursday nights doesn’t hurt.

Other freshman series off to solid starts are CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones, leading out of The Millers and averaging 11.6 million viewers; NBC drama The Blacklist, averaging 11.5 million viewers; and Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, averaging 8 million.

Last season’s most watched freshman series during the first month was CBS drama Vegas which averaged 12.9 million viewers, but was ultimately canceled because of a low 18-49 demo rating. Vegas was the only new series last fall to average more than 10 million viewers over the first month of the season.

Next was NBC’s Revolution which was averaging 8.5 million viewers through the first month. That was followed by ABC’s Nashville and Last Resort, each averaging 7.8, and then CBS’ Made in Jersey, which averaged 7.3 million viewers but was the first freshman series canceled because it was only averaging a disappointing 1.0 18-49 demo rating.

Looking at the veteran broadcast network series, The Big Bang Theory’s 18-49 rating so far this season is up 21% over the comparable period last season to a 5.8 from a 4.8, while The Voice on Mondays is averaging the same 4.7 it did during the first month of last season.

Last season’s 18-49 demo rating leader after the first four weeks—ABC’s Modern Family, which posted a 5.0—is down 18% to a 4.1. Other top 10 series in the demo from last season that are down this year are ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy (-21% to a 3.1); CBS’ NCIS (-11% to a 3.3); CBS’ Two and a Half Men (-31% to a 2.4); CBS’ 2 Broke Girls (-29% to a 2.5); Fox’s The X Factor Wednesday (-31% to a 2.4); Fox’s The Simpsons (-15% to a 2.9); ABC’s Once Upon a Time (-29% to a 2.4); and Fox’s Family Guy (-24% to a 2.6).

Looking at veteran series viewership, Big Bang and The Voice on Monday are both up with Big Bang viewership during the first four weeks climbing 3 million viewers a week to 18.2 million, an increase of 20%, while The Voice is averaging 14.4 million viewers, an increase of 13%.

Veterans Days
The most watched series on broadcast television, CBS drama NCIS is averaging 19.3 million viewers during the first month, its same average as last season. Other veteran series showing viewer increases include NBC drama Law & Order: SVU, up 19% to 8 million, CBS drama Blue Bloods, up 6% to 11 million viewers and ABC’s Castle, up 4% to 11 million.

Two veteran series showing the largest viewership declines over the first four weeks are CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men and ABC drama Once Upon a Time. Two and a Half Men is down 22% to 9.7 million, but that is largely due to the series leading out of The Big Bang Theory last season and now having moved to a new time slot this year. It is still leading out of a strong series in freshman sitcom The Crazy Ones, which is averaging 11.6 million viewers, so Men is only losing 16% of its lead in audience.

Once Upon a Time is in its same Sunday night time period and is down 23% in viewership to 7.8 million.

CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls is down 16% in viewership to 8 million, although CBS just moved it to a new time period leading out of How I Met Your Mother so its viewership should pick up with this more compatible lead-in. It was previously leading out of the canceled We Are Men.

Another struggling veteran series over the first month is Fox’s The X Factor. Its Wednesday edition is down 20% to 7.4 million viewers, while its Thursday show is down 26% to 6.7 million viewers. Its 18-49 declines are even more alarming with its Wednesday version down 31% to a 2.4 and its Thursday show down 35% in the demo to a 2.0.

In the non-entertainment primetime arena, NBC’s Sunday Night Football is also having a stellar first month. SNF is averaging 22.2 million viewers and an 8.4 18-49 demo rating. That's up 13% in viewers and 9% in the demo compared to last season.

The increased viewership by SNF, The Voice and freshman series The Blacklist, along with stronger performances season to date by Law & Order: SVU and Chicago Fire help explain why NBC is averaging 9.3 million viewers per night over the first month of the season, up 15% over last season. NBC still trails CBS in average viewers with CBS totaling 9.8 million per night, down 2% from last season. ABC is averaging 7.3 million viewers, down 7%, while Fox is averaging 5.8 million, up 6%. Much of the Fox increase is due to the success of freshman series Sleepy Hollow.

NBC is also leading the 18-49 demo race for the first month of the season, averaging a 2.99, just about flat compared to last season. CBS is next with an average demo rating of 2.06, down 7%. ABC and Fox are both flat, with ABC averaging a 2.02 and Fox averaging a 1.91.

Fast approaching are the November sweeps which will see all the networks putting up first-run episodes before airing repeats and holiday specials in December.