October 9, 2014

NIELSENWAR: Early Notes From the Front


We’re a bit more then 2 weeks into the Fall 2014 TV season, most of the new series have had their debuts, and a few selected hours aside, the results aren’t pretty.  We’re going to take a capsule look at where each of the 4 major networks stand (CW is just beginning the roll-out of its line-up, so it’s too soon to judge its efforts, although the debut of THE FLASH couldn’t have gone better.)

But first:  we’ve said it here many times before, but it bears endless repeating.  The networks have done a brilliant job of convincing media writers that Live +3 and Live +7 ratings (L3/L7) are the ones that matter, now including estimates of those with their overnight ratings reports, and those numbers are obediently repeated.  Those ratings are certainly of some interest, and a show’s success with delayed viewing could conceivably make the difference if the series is teetering on the edge of its bubble.  But in terms of the fundamental business of network television, counting the vast bulk of delayed viewers is like a store counting shoplifters as though they’re paying customers.  Very simply:  Advertisers Do Not Pay For Them.  And since networks survive by being paid by advertisers for the viewers who matter to them, those viewers–except for the relatively small number who watch all the commercials on their DVRs within 3 days of initial airing (C3)–might as well not exist.  A show that gets a 1.5 rating on Monday and claims a 3 rating after the following week is included is lucky if it’s above a 1.7 as far as advertisers are concerned.

All that being said:

FOX:  If Kevin Reilly hadn’t already lost his job, he’d probably be packing right now.  The comic-book procedural /Batman prequel GOTHAM took a dip this week to a successful but hardly exciting 2.5, and since that show is the sum total of the good news for FOX this fall, the network is truly in dire straits.  Reilly ordered the fall’s product, and that means RED BAND SOCIETY, GRACEPOINT, UTOPIA and MULANEY all came in under his watch.  Last week, none of those scored above 1.2 in 18-49s, and the network as a whole is down 19% from the 1st 2 weeks of last season–and even that’s misleading, because it includes the huge Sunday night that featured the SIMPSONS/FAMILY GUY crossover episode.   Utopia has already been confined to Fridays, and Gracepoint and Mulaney have only aired once each, so they could well keep falling.  Add to that the continued struggles of NEW GIRL and THE MINDY PROJECT, the increasingly rusty The Simpsons and Family Guy when there isn’t something special like the crossover to prop up their numbers, the steadily aging BONES, and the fact that SLEEPY HOLLOW is now merely a cult hit–suddenly the mediocre 1.6 for BROOKLYN NINE-NINE becomes a talking point.  FOX already knew it had a fixer-upper on its hands, but now it’s looking more like a teardown.

NBC:  Welcome back to last year.  Once again, SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL, THE VOICE and THE BLACKLIST are handing NBC Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights (CHICAGO FIRE is also doing well, but that’s with the Voice lead-in it’s about to lose), and then it’s a long step down to the rest of the week.  Like, the kind of long step Wile E. Coyote takes when he walks unsuspectingly off a ledge.  Wednesdays are down 14% from last season, as THE MYSTERIES OF LAURA is getting watched by plenty of eyeballs; unfortunately most of them have cataracts, CHICAGO PD lost to ABC’s perpetual bubble show Nashville last week (let alone CBS’s new Stalker), and only tied Nashville this week.   On Thursdays, down 15% from last year’s dismal score, BAD JUDGE and A TO Z are nowhere.  NBC’s season will be an “Incomplete” until we see what happens when the Katherine Heigl vehicle STATE OF AFFAIRS takes over the Blacklist slot in November, and then when Blacklist faces off against Scandal starting in February, but here’s the scary part:  even with Blacklist in place, Mondays are down 17% from last season, the network’s biggest drop of the fall.  That gap is likely only to grow.  Nevertheless, with Sundays up 8% on the back of football, for now it seems as though 2014-15 will be the same as 2013-14:  NBC accumulates a big lead in the fall, culminating in a giant sports event (this season’s SUPER BOWL, compared to last winter’s Olympics), and then watches it dribble away all through the last 4 months of the season, hoping enough remains to keep it on top in May.

ABC:  Things looked lovely in the first week of the season.  For a few days, FOREVER seemed like it could give Tuesdays a lift the night desperately needed, and BLACK-ISH appeared to be the one-two punch with MODERN FAMILY the network has been seeking for years.  Both shows quickly slipped, though.  That’s not to say that there hasn’t been good news for ABC.  Shondaland Thursdays are a huge success, pulling the night a whopping 24% above last season with the GREY’S ANATOMY move and the addition of HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDERTHE GOLDBERGS fits perfectly with THE MIDDLE on Wednesdays (and Black-ish, while no blockbuster, is holding well), and SHARK TANK dominates Fridays.  The FROZEN storyline on ONCE UPON A TIME is giving that show its best numbers in a long time.  But RESURRECTION is far from the breakout hit it appeared to be in the spring, and REVENGE is running on fumes.  New sitcoms SELFIE and MANHATTAN LOVE STORY are already all but dead, and AGENTS OF SHIELD had no sophomore surge.  ABC has a long way to go before it’s healthy.  But this fall has given it a few steps along that road.

CBS:  When was CBS’s last genuine new hit? For years now, the network has cruised with its veteran successes, and it appears that will be the case this season, too.  Mondays and Thursdays are up enormously from last season, but THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL has only a month left on its limited run, and then THE BIG BANG THEORY will leave Mondays, blowing a hole in the 8PM hour that may dent the promising, but hardly earthshaking SCORPION.  The move to Mondays hurt NCIS: LOS ANGELES, while age has weakened that franchise’s mothership and the NEW ORLEANS installment is doing merely OK.  MADAM SECRETARY is giving no lift to THE GOOD WIFE, and not getting that show’s buzz, either.  While SURVIVOR and CRIMINAL MINDS remain stalwart, the new STALKER didn’t spark much more than critical outrage.  THE AMAZING RACE crumpled with its move to Fridays, and HAWAII 5-0 and BLUE BLOODS only get older each season.  Despite the addition of 3 hours of primetime football, CBS is up only 5% for the entire week from last season, and that’s going to make for some ugly comparison numbers come November.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."