MBPT Spotlight: Freshman Broadcast Series Overall Not Performing Much Better Than Last Season’s New Crop Of Shows

The Big Four broadcast networks’ slate of new shows for the 2013-14 season cumulatively performed just slightly better in the recently competed fourth quarter than their new shows for 2012-13 did. And when you consider there were no breakout hits last season, that can’t be considered too promising.

This season’s premiere week gave the networks great hope for a bunch of their freshman series, but viewers have since been abandoning the rookies in sizable numbers. Among the Top 10 most-watched freshman series this season, viewer declines from the premiere episode compared to the season-to-date average at the end of the fourth quarter ranged from 15% to 42%. Among the 18-49 demo ratings, declines from their premieres ranged between 18% and 49%.

This year’s 10 most-watched new shows had a cumulative premiere episode average of 10.4 million viewers and an average 3.3 18-49 demo rating. However, at the end of the fourth quarter, those 10 new series had a cumulative viewer average of 7.3 million and an 18-49 demo rating average of 2.2.

That’s a more precipitous drop than the top freshman series had during the fourth quarter last year. The 2012-13 10 most-watched new shows had a cumulative premiere episode average of 9.2 million viewers and an average 2.6 18-49 demo rating. At the end of fourth quarter last year, those 10 new series had fallen to a cumulative viewer average of 7 million and an 18-49 demo rating average of 2.1.

The most-watched new series this season so far has been the CBS sitcom The Millers, which airs on Thursday nights leading out of TV’s most-watched comedy, The Big Bang Theory. The Millers is averaging 10.5 million viewers, but it is only retaining 64% of the Big Bang audience. It has also lost 20% of its average viewership per episode since it premiered with 13.1 million viewers, and has fallen to a 2.6 18-49 rating after premiering at 3.3. That translates to The Millers keeping only 55% of Big Bang’s demo rating.

While The Millers could return next season in the same time period and produce solid numbers, the question is how well would it do without the Big Bang lead-in if the network ever wanted to move it? Two and a Half Men led out of Big Bang last season and in the fourth quarter it was averaging 12.4 million viewers and a 3.6 demo rating. This season, CBS moved Two and a Half Men to 9:30 p.m. Thursday and away from Big Bang, and the series is averaging 8.7 million viewers and a 2.2 demo rating.

The 'List Declines Less
The second most-watched new series this season has been the NBC drama The Blacklist, which is averaging 10.3 million viewers and a 2.9 18-49 demo rating. The Blacklist premiered with 12.6 million viewers and a 3.8 demo rating, so it has lost 18% of viewers since its premiere and 24% of its demo rating—putting it among the lowest percentages of declines of the new series.

The Blacklist right now appears to be the hit series of the season, yet it has also led out of NBC’s blockbuster reality series The Voice on Monday nights at 10. The Voice has averaged 14 million viewers and a 4.0 demo rating so far, so The Blacklist is holding on to about 75% of its lead-in audience and about 73% of its demo rating, better percentages than The Millers.

Two freshman series that premiered with very solid viewership and demo ratings—CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones and ABC drama Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—have lost big percentages of their audiences since their premieres. The Crazy Ones, which stars Robin Williams, premiered with 15.5 million viewers but has settled in to average 9 million viewers, still a solid number but down 42% from its premiere. The Crazy Ones also had a 3.9 18-49 demo rating for its premiere which is now down to an average 2.3, a decline of 41%.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered to 12.1 million viewers and a 4.7 18-49 rating, but is now averaging 7 million viewers and a 2.4 demo rating, declines of 42% and 49%, respectively.

Rounding out the Top 10 most-watched new series through the end of December are: CBS sitcom Mom (6.8 million viewers); ABC comedy Back in the Game (6.4 million); Fox drama Sleepy Hollow (6 million); ABC sitcom Super Fun Night (5.9 million); Fox drama Almost Human (5.6 million); and ABC sitcom The Goldbergs (5.3 million).

The Goldbergs premiered with 8.9 million viewers so it has lost 40% of its audience since that first airing.

Following The Blacklist (2.9), The Millers (2.6), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2.4) and The Crazy Ones (2.3) among the freshman series in the 18-49 demo are: Sleepy Hollow (2.1), Super Fun Night (2.1), Mom (1.9), Back in the Game (1.8), Almost Human (1.8) and The Goldbergs (1.7).

Last season’s most-watched premiere episode for a freshman series was CBS drama Vegas with 14.8 million viewers, followed by fellow CBS drama Elementary with 13.4 million. At the end of December, Vegas was averaging 11.1 million to still hold down the most-watched position among the new shows, followed by Elementary which was averaging 10.3 million. However, Vegas was ultimately canceled by CBS, while Elementary returned.

NBC’s Revolution premiered with 9.2 million viewers last season and was the highest-rated new series in the 18-49 demo with a 3.4 rating. By the end of December, Revolution was averaging 8 million viewers and a still-solid 3.0 18-49 rating. But as has been well documented, NBC put the series on hiatus for three months and when it returned it lost a significant amount of its previous viewership. The series returned this season but has averaged only 5.4 million viewers and a 1.5 demo rating.

Only five of last season’s most-watched new series in fourth quarter wound up being brought back this season. In addition to Elementary and Revolution, the other three were ABC sitcom The Neighbors, ABC drama Nashville and NBC drama Chicago Fire.

The decision to bring back freshman series for a second season involves more than just ratings. With the networks having their own studios, a series that doesn’t justify being renewed based on ratings alone might be brought back so it can build up episodes for syndication.

Another determining factor is what else on the schedule is working. If a network has lots of poorly performing series, it is hard to cancel every new show, even if some are doing badly, because it would create too many holes on the schedule. And oftentimes the thinking is that bringing back a series the audience is familiar with and trying to grow it during its second year might be a better alternative than bringing in an unknown new entry and starting from scratch.

But looking at the current crop of freshman series this season, there doesn’t appear to be many that are locks to return next season.

Midseason Entries Not Much Better
As far as midseason introductions of new series, the success rate historically is not much better there.

During the first eight days in January, ABC premiered two new drama series, The Assets and Killer Women, while CBS premiered new drama Intelligence and NBC premiered drama Chicago PD.

Killer Women drew only 4 million viewers and a 0.9 18-49 demo rating in its premiere and is pretty much dead on arrival. The Assets did even worse. It premiered to just 3.8 million and a 0.7 18-49 rating, the lowest ever for an in-season Big Four network series premiere.

CBS had much better luck with the premiere of Intelligence. The drama series premiered to 16.5 million viewers and a 2.4 18-49 rating. The viewer number was the largest for a freshman series premiere so far this season.

NBC's Chicago PD premiered on Wednesday to 8.6 million viewers and a 2.0 18-49 demo rating in the overnights, a decent start but clearly not as strong as Intelligence.

While hopes will be high at CBS for Intelligence to succeed, just about every series loses audience following its first episode, and Intelligence, which premiered in a special time period on Tuesday night, next week moves into its regular Monday night at 10 p.m. slot where it will go head to head with NBC’s The Blacklist. That could turn into an interesting ratings battle among two freshman series during the second half of the season.