February 10, 2014

NIELSENWAR: The Olympics Kick In, and The Woes of FOX


We’re 3 days into the 18 of the WINTER OLYMPICS, and the games are already paying ratings dividends for NBC.  (However, it’s critical to note that the Olympics are like the NFL, only more so:  the rights and production costs are so massively expensive that high ratings don’t necessarily mean profits–and even slight underperformance could lead to a sizable network loss.)  NBC’s average for the week, with only those 3 days of Olympics included, was 4.68, more than 2 1/2 times its closest competitor (CBS at 1.68), and even farther ahead of FOX (1.57), ABC (1.32) and CW (0.60).

The Season To Date network averages (based solely on Live + Same Day ratings, no 3- or 7-day DVR’d viewing):

NBC:  2.52 (up 0.11 from last week)

FOX:  2.50 (down 0.05)

CBS:  2.03 (down 0.01)

ABC:  1.63 (down 0.01)

CW:   0.55 (even)

FOX’s average will be artificially boosted by its Super Bowl number this season, but aside from that, what was already a problematic season has turned downright disastrous in the past few weeks.  Consider this:

MONDAY:  THE FOLLOWING is barely hanging on, hitting new lows each week, the show having apparently made a seriously bad decision in retaining its villain and ultra-bloody tone from last season.  (A quick rule of thumb: slaughtering zombies on The Walking Dead is mainstream fun, slaughtering innocent people less so.)  ALMOST HUMAN, which was considered a disappointment, is now doing as well as its lead-out.  Even SLEEPY HOLLOW, although deservedly renewed for next fall, lost some of its strength over the course of its run.

TUESDAY:  Perhaps most heartbreaking for FOX’s creative corps, the combination of a Golden Globe win (two, in fact, counting the one for star Andy Samberg), a prize post-Super Bowl airing and a new timeslot following NEW GIRL, the network’s most successful live-action comedy, did absolutely nothing for BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, which incredibly went down half a point from its previous Tuesday airing.  New Girl, for its part, at this point is barely a “hit”–embarrassingly, the much-reviled DADS is doing about as well as the two of them.

WEDNESDAY/THURSDAY:  AMERICAN IDOL is still a successful show that wins Wednesday and performs strongly on Thursday (albeit against little competition from ABC or NBC)–but that’s all it is, no longer a smash, a blockbuster or a phenomenon.  It remains to be seen how the new episodes airing against the Olympics will do over the next 2 weeks, and if the numbers go down, how many of those viewers will come back when the games are over.  In any case, the changes in judging panel and format have done nothing to recapture Idol‘s former glory.  The expensive and heavily promoted RAKE is a complete dud.  FOX also bit the bullet and announced this week that THE X FACTOR won’t be coming back in the fall, a necessary decision (one theory was that airing another music competition in the fall was helping to damage Idol), but one that will require 3 hours per week of real estate to be filled with new programming, a major challenge with so many other holes on the schedule.  And although GLEE is back next season for its valedictory run, its best days are far behind it.

FRIDAY:  BONES is holding its own (and will be rewarded with a move back to Mondays), but ENLISTED is DOA and it’s hard to see RAISING HOPE surviving to another season.

SUNDAY:  THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY continue to draw strong ratings, but they’re aging shows (7 years of the 18-49 demo wasn’t even born when Simpsons started airing), and their gradual erosion will continue.

In short, FOX needs something close to a complete rebuild next fall.  The network is even worse off than NBC, which is sturdy on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and does well enough on Friday, and ABC, which still has Modern Family and the Shonda Rhimes duo pulling strong numbers.  The good news for well-regarded but marginally-rated shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Mindy Project is that given the number of hours FOX needs to fill, they have a decent (better than that for Brooklyn) chance of renewal, although perhaps for short orders on different nights.  The bad news for FOX is that a network can only afford to have so many shows on its line-up that it already knows will get mediocre or worse ratings.

FOX has publicly embraced the notions of fewer pilots and more “event” series (i.e., miniseries) and direct-to-series orders, and those should save the network some development costs.  With so many hours in play, however, limiting the network’s options is also a risky move–if FOX can’t adequately replace X Factor, the network could be looking at a fall where the only shows rating above 1.5 are Sleepy Hollow, its elder statesmen animations, and perhaps the on-the-way-out Bones, a prospect scarier than the Edgar Allen Poe freaks on The Following.


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."