MBPT Spotlight: In Broadcast Primetime, Older Can Sometimes Be Better

Everyone knows most CBS primetime series skew old. How old? Eight of the top 10 broadcast network primetime shows with the oldest median age this season are on CBS. And 12 of the top 20. And 15 of the top 25. And that’s not counting newsmagazines.

But age is only a number. While CBS is the oldest-skewing network, season-to-date through this past Sunday, it is No. 1 in viewers and No. 2 in the 18-49 demo behind NBC, whose numbers include 17 weeks of Sunday Night Football, which helps bolster its demo number. So, perhaps the answer to “how old” is “old enough to know better.”

CBS is averaging 9.4 million viewers per night, which is about 1.2 million more than NBC, 3 million more than ABC and 4.2 million more per night than Fox, according to Nielsen data for regularly scheduled programming. For CBS, older is OK, particularly because many of its older-skewing shows are drawing mass audiences larger than those on the other networks, and their 18-49 numbers in most cases are competitive with the other network and, in many instances, higher.

CBS’ Friday at 10 p.m. police drama Blue Bloods is broadcast’s oldest-skewing primetime entertainment series with a median age audience of 63.5. However, the show is averaging 10.9 million viewers on the second lowest TV viewing night of the week, and it does a credible 1.3 18-49 demo rating, considering many folks in that demo are out and about on Friday nights.

ABC’s Dancing With the Stars has a median age audience of 62.4, good for second place among the oldest primetime series. However, CBS holds down the next six spots on the age list; two of those series are not only among the most-watched in primetime, but also draw solid 18-49 demo ratings.

NCIS is the third oldest-skewing series in primetime with a median age viewer of 61.7. However, the series is also the most-watched drama on all of television, averaging 17.1 million viewers per episode this season, along with a 2.6 18-49 demo rating, which is the fourth highest among all broadcast primetime dramas.

The other CBS series among the top 10 oldest skewing include: The Good Wife (median age 61.4, 9.2 million viewers and a 1.4 demo rating); Hawaii Five-0 (median age 61.3, 9.2 million viewers and a 1.3 demo rating); NCIS: Los Angeles (median age 61, 13.5 million viewers and a 2.2 demo rating); TheMentalist (median age 60.9, 8.6 million viewers and a 1.4 demo rating); Person of Interest (median age 60.3, 10.9 million viewers and a 1.8 demo rating); and Intelligence (median age 59.3, 7.5 million viewers and a 1.4 demo rating).

ABC’s Castle, with a 59.5 median age, 9.3 million viewers and a 1.8 demo rating, squeezes in the ninth position in the above list.

Just missing the top 10 in median age was CBS drama CSI, which has a median age of 59.2 and is averaging 9.4 million viewers and a 1.8 18-49 demo rating.

The viewer numbers in today’s fragmented primetime TV environment, with hundreds of cable networks for viewers to tune into—in addition to primetime broadcast—are fairly impressive. Based on prior years’ 18-49 ratings numbers, some of CBS series’ averages in the demo don’t look that good until you compare them with the current season. Only 12 primetime dramas on the air right now have 18-49 demo ratings above a 1.9.

Among the top 25 oldest skewing shows, CBS has 15, ABC has 6 and NBC has 4. The other CBS shows include Elementary (median age 58.6), Two and a Half Men (55.2), The Millers (55.1) and The Crazy Ones (55.1). The other ABC series include Killer Women (58.2), Last Man Standing (57.5), Betrayal (56.1) and Revenge (55.7). The NBC series include its two new dramas Believe (56.4) and Crisis (56.1), along with Law & Order: SVU (55.7) and The Blacklist (54.7).

The Blacklist is NBC’s most-watched drama with an average viewership of 9.9 million viewers and a 2.7 18-49 demo rating.

Taking a separate look at The CW, its oldest-skewing series currently on the air is drama Arrow with a median age audience of 48. Arrow is also The CW’s most watched series, averaging 2.4 million viewers. Its next two most-watched series skew younger. The Originals has a median age viewer of 38.1 and the series is averaging 2 million viewers, while Supernatural has a median age audience of 39 and an average 2.1 million viewers.

Examining the Nielsen median age list shows that at least in broadcast primetime, younger is not always better at drawing audiences. Sitcom The Mindy Project on Fox, which the network just renewed for next season, has a median age audience of 37.3 but is only averaging 2.6 million viewers with a 1.3 demo rating. Sitcom New Girl has a median age of 36.6 and is drawing only 3.2 million viewers per episode with a better 1.6 demo rating.

Community on NBC, with a median age audience of 46.2, is averaging only 3.1 million viewers and a 1.1 demo rating, while Parks and Recreation, with a 45.5 median age audience, is averaging 2.9 million viewers and a 1.1 demo rating.

Perhaps the most interesting older-skewing show in primetime is CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes. While this roundup did not include the primetime newsmagazines, 60 Minutes is worth mentioning. Now in its 46th season, having premiered in 1968, 60 Minutes this season is averaging 12.3 million viewers making it the seventh-most-watched program in primetime. And it has a median age audience of 61.1. Despite its elevated median age, it is averaging a 2.1 18-49 demo rating, placing it among the top 25 in that category in all of primetime, and it is also averaging a 1.3 18-34 demo rating, higher than several younger-skewing broadcast comedies, including Fox’s Glee.