MBPT Spotlight: With Midseason Success, NBC Looks for First Demo Title Since 2003-04

A comparison of last season’s broadcast primetime freshman shows with this season’s finds not much difference. There were lots of new show duds in fourth-quarter 2013 and a similar amount of failures in the same period 2014.

But when you dig down a little deeper, one big difference does emerge. Last season, most of the new broadcast primetime series that premiered in the first quarter also bombed, while this season, several of the new series are doing well—so far.

And leading the pack are five midseason freshman series on NBC, a development that has to bring smiles to the faces of both the network entertainment brass and the advertisers that were moved into these series after all but one of the NBC fall freshman shows tanked. NBC has not won the broadcast season 18-49 ratings crown since the 2003-04 season, the final year for two stalwart TV successes: Friends and Frasier. But it has a good chance this time around.

Not only are its midseason shows boosting NBC’s viewership and ratings, but when added to the network’s lone fourth quarter freshman hit The Blacklist, they are the main reason why the network is now No. 1 in the 18-49 demo among regularly scheduled programming. Amazingly, that does not include Olympics’ viewership.

Entering this week, NBC was averaging a 2.4 18-49 demo rating for regularly-scheduled programs, up 9% from last season. A distant second is CBS with a 1.9, followed by ABC and Fox, each with a 1.7. And even when you add the Super Bowl viewership to Fox, which bumps it up to a 2.3, it’s still behind NBC. Adding the Olympics viewership to NBC boosts its 18-49 rating to a 2.6.

How much have The Blacklist and NBC’s five new midseason shows—sitcoms About a Boy and Growing Up Fisher and dramas Chicago P.D., Believe and Crisis—meant to its ratings?

According to a recent analysis of Nielsen data by media agency Carat, last season, if you took out Sunday Night Football and The Voice from NBC’s ratings, its 18-49 number would have been a 1.45; this season, if you eliminate both, it is a 1.57.

Back in Black

The Blacklist has been a continuous hit since it premiered in fourth quarter. Season-to-date it is averaging 9.9 million viewers and a 2.7 18-49 demo rating. Last season, NBC also had a freshman hit in sci-fi drama Revolution, which averaged 8 million viewers and a 3.0 18-49 demo rating in fourth quarter. But the network put it on hiatus from mid-November to late March and when it returned it could not recapture its viewership mojo. It ended the season averaging about 7 million viewers and a 2.4 18-49 demo rating. The Blacklist went on a mini-hiatus, but NBC was sure to bring it back in January.

Other than Revolution last season, NBC’s freshman shows both in the fall and into the spring all failed to draw significant audience. By March, its freshman sitcom Go On was averaging just 4.9 million viewers with a 1.8 demo rating. The New Normal was averaging 3.7 million and a 1.4 demo rating and Guys With Kids was averaging just 3.5 million viewers and a 1.2 demo rating, and was pulled in February.

And NBC’s freshman replacement series did no better. Sitcom 1600 Penn, which came on in December and ran through March, averaged only 2.7 million viewers and a 1.1 18-49 rating. Freshman drama Deception, which came on in January, was averaging 3.7 million viewers and a 1.3 demo rating by the end of March, and drama Do No Harm, which also joined the schedule in January, was averaging 2.6 million and a 0.8 demo rating.

What a difference a year makes for NBC. Its fall 2014 freshman shows proved to be as low-rated as last season’s entries. Welcome to the Family and Ironside were canceled after only a few weeks while The Michael J. Fox Show (3.8 million viewers and a 1.2 18-49 rating) and Sean Saves the World (3.3 million and a 1.0 demo rating) held on a little longer but are both now gone. However, NBC saved its best for later, as its midseason series right now are all doing well.

Sitcom About a Boy is averaging 7.9 million viewers and a 2.2 18-49 rating, making it the fifth most-watched new broadcast primetime series right now and fourth highest among the 18-49 demo. Its other sitcom, Growing Up Fisher, is averaging 7.1 million viewers and a 1.9 demo rating, ranking it eighth in viewers among the freshman series and ninth in the demo.

Drama Chicago P.D. is averaging 6.5 million viewers and a 1.7 in the demo to rank it ninth and 11th among the freshman series, respectively.

NBC’s other two new dramas, Believe and Crisis, are each averaging 5.8 million viewers to rank them 12th among the freshman series in viewers. Both skew a bit older though, with Crisis averaging a 1.4 18-49 demo rating and Believe a 1.3. However, there are more than a dozen freshman series currently airing that have lower demo ratings than that.

Billie Gold, VP, director of buying/programming research at Carat, says NBC right now is on a bit of a new programming “roll.” And she adds that what makes NBC’s new series success more impressive is that the network is doing it on nights other than high-viewing Thursday.

Both The Blacklist and Chicago P.D. have already been renewed, and Gold believes About a Boy right now has about a 60% chance to be brought back for next season and Growing Up Fisher has about a 40% chance. A lot will depend on how these series do over the remaining six or seven weeks of the season. Crisis and Believe need to stabilize, but up to now they have provided higher ratings than last season’s NBC midseason series.

At the end of March last season, among the top 10 new shows in viewers, six premiered in the fall: Vegas, CBS (by March averaging 10.4 million viewers); Elementary, CBS (10.1 million); Revolution, NBC (8 million); Chicago Fire, NBC (5.9 million); The Neighbors, ABC (5.9 million); and Malibu Country, ABC (5.8 million).

The other four top 10 series from the 2012-13 season premiered after January. They were Golden Boy, CBS (9.5 million); The Following, Fox (8.9 million); Red Widow, ABC (6 million); and Zero Hour, ABC (5.6 million).

At the end of March last season, among the top 10 new shows in the 18-49 demo, eight premiered in the fall: Revolution (3.0), Elementary (2.1); Go On, NBC (1.8); The Neighbors (1.7); Chicago Fire (1.7); Vegas (1.7); Nashville, ABC (1.7); The Mindy Project, Fox (1.6); The New Normal, NBC (1.4); Deception, NBC (1.3); and Red Widow (1.3).

The other two top 10 series from the 2012-13 season that premiered after January were The Following (2.9) and Golden Boy (1.7).

CBS ended up renewing Vegas and Elementary but not Golden Boy. Fox renewed The Following and The Mindy Project. ABC renewed The Neighbors and Nashville. NBC renewed Revolution and Chicago Fire.

This season’s top 10 new shows among viewers through March 23 include only five shows that premiered in the fall: The Millers, CBS (10.4 million); The Blacklist, NBC (9.9 million); The Crazy Ones, CBS (8.3 million); Mom, CBS (7.2 million); and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC (6.3 million).

The five top 10 shows among viewers that premiered in midseason include: Resurrection, ABC (11.5 million); About a Boy, NBC (7.9 million); Intelligence, CBS (7.3 million); Growing Up Fisher, NBC (7.1 million); and Chicago P.D., NBC (6.5 million).

New and Popular

This season’s top 10 new shows among the 18-49 demo through March 23 include seven series that premiered in the fall: The Blacklist (2.7); The Millers (2.5); Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2.1); Sleepy Hollow, Fox (2.0); The Crazy Ones (2.0); Mom (1.9); and Almost Human, Fox (1.7).

This season’s top 10 new shows in the 18-49 demo that premiered in midseason are Resurrection (3.2); About a Boy (2.2); and Growing Up Fisher (1.9).

So far, among all the new series, The Blacklist, Chicago P.D., The Millers, Mom and Sleepy Hollow have been renewed, along with two Fox freshman sitcoms Dads and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Dads is a bit of a head-scratcher since it is averaging 3.4 million viewers and a 1.3 18-49 demo rating. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is also averaging only 3.3 million viewers and a 1.4 demo rating, but it at least won a pair of Golden Globes for Best Comedy Series and for Best Actor in a Comedy (Andy Samberg).

For the rest of the freshman series, it is still a crapshoot and the networks will be watching to see how many can maintain their ratings. ABC’s Resurrection has only been on for three weeks so it’s expected that it will see its viewer average of 11.5 million and its 3.2 18-49 demo rating go down some, but by how much is the question. It premiered with 14 million viewers and a 3.8 demo rating but last Sunday it drew 9.2 million and a 2.5 demo rating, still solid numbers but clearly the series has not stabilized yet.

Carat’s Gold says the sizable decline “is not a good sign,” but says the series has time to stabilize and if it does before falling too much, Resurrection will be “a lock” to come back for next season.

With CBS already announcing renewals for its veterans and two of its freshman series, the outlook for renewal is not looking good for Robin Williams and The Crazy Ones, despite its 8.3 million viewer average and 2.0 18-49 demo rating, which rank it in the top 10 among new series in both viewers and the demo. But CBS canceled the most-watched freshman series in primetime last season in Vegas with its 10.4 million viewer average, pretty much because it was not happy with its 1.7 demo rating.

With so many midseason shows doing well, the question arises as to why the networks don’t hold back more of their better series for midseason launch when there is less clutter of every network premiering new series in the opening weeks of the season.

Gold believes the broadcast networks have no choice but to premiere the series they believe have the best chance of success in the fall because that’s how upfront advertising is sold.

“Some of the networks are starting to hold back a top show or two for midseason, but the fall is when the new shows get all the media coverage starting with the upfront,” she says. “Every network wants to go into the upfront negotiations with the agencies having good publicity about their schedules and the new shows. They don’t want any failures in fourth quarter, although usually most of them turn out to be.”

Gold says with all the upfront dollars being spent, the fall schedules are just so much more important than midseason, even though the agencies can buy midseason shows in the upfront.

“The fall schedule really sets the tone for each network for the entire season,” Gold says. “The networks are all trying to wow the advertisers during the upfront.”