May 24, 2012


There’s a new sheriff in town on Thursday nights this fall: CBS is poised to take command of the night.  CBS has been building toward this achievement for years, and this season all the pieces are in place: two solid comedies at 8 pm, a returning drama ready to grow at 9 pm and a very promising new drama at 10.  CBS will be the only network up substantially on the night, moving from a very close second place last fall to a solid first place.  FOX should slip a little to second place, while ABC holds steady in third.  NBC will still be in fourth place on this night, and this year NBC’s Thursday could be in as bad a shape as its Wednesday night. 

CBS has solved its 8:30 issue on Thursday.  After moving Big Bang Theory to 8:00 with great success, 8:30 has been a bit of a trough.  How to Be a Gentleman lasted only two episodes: it averaged a 2.6 rating, which would be a home run on NBC’s comedy block, but its miserable 55% retention of Big Bang‘s audience was too low to tolerate.  Rules of Engagement immediately improved the time period, but only up to a 3.4 rating.  This year, Two and a Half Men gracefully leaves its Monday night anchor position to likely serve out the rest of its career as an 8:30 show (on a very important night).  Big Bang should average a 4.8 rating for original episodes in the fourth quarter, just a tenth of a rating point below last fall.  Men will be very close to that number — we’ll say a 4.6 rating.  After its insanely high 10.7 season premiere on Monday last fall (boosted by curiosity-seekers who wanted to see how the Kutcher-for-Sheen substitution would work), Men settled down to around a 5.2 rating most of the fall and around a 4 rating most of the spring.  So a fall rebound somewhere in between sounds about right (especially given its great lead-in).  With 8:30 in better shape, Person of Interest is ready to go up to another level — probably up four tenths of a rating point from last fall to a 3.1 rating.  Ready to take full advantage of this improved lead-in is the new drama Elementary, which has a made-for-CBS procedural concept:  Sherlock Holmes in contemporary New York.    A 2.9 rating is very bullish for a 10 pm drama in today’s environment, but Elementary looks like it can pull it off.  From 8-11 pm, this adds up to a 3.6 rating, up a very solid 16% from last fall and equaling CBS’s own winning pace on Monday.  




FOX is continuing with The X Factor Results show at 8 pm, which should be within a tenth of a rating point of last year.  Glee moves into 9 pm from Tuesday at 8, where it averaged a 3.3 rating in the fall and ended the year around a 2.6 rating.  Although it is changing nights (often a big problem for a show in decline), it is gaining a young-skewing, compatible lead-in.  On balance we’ll give it a slight bump from its spring level to a 2.8 rating (very similar to what Bones averaged in the fall last year as it turns out).  The entire night should average a 3.1 rating in the fall, down only 4%, and a bump down to second place as CBS passes it by.  

ABC is also holding fairly steady on Thursday.  The Last Resort heads into the killing field also known as ABC Thursday at 8.  The drama has the strangest premise of any new show this fall:  a nuclear-armed US sub (captained by Andrew Braugher, with Scott Speedman in the crew) secedes from the United States and forms its own “country.”  It’s barely possible this could be the surprise sleeper of the season, but much more likely that while not Charlie’s Angels (1.4 average rating last fall), The Last Resort will be eking out a 1.9 rating.  Not a complete disaster, but pretty weak.  At 9 pm, Grey’s Anatomy returns, most likely a 3.5 average rating, down a touch from the 3.7 it averaged last fall.  Grey’s finished strong with a 4.1 rating for the season finale, but most of the winter and spring was around a low-3 rating.  Look for a season premiere around a 4 and then a quick move to mid-3 episode ratings.  Scandal returns at 10 pm, where it finished strong with a 2.3 rating after being stuck at a 1.9 or 2.0 rating.  ABC will encourage viewers over the summer to catch up with this show.  A modest jump up to a 2.3 rating for the entire run of its fall episodes seems in order.  For the night, ABC should average a 2.6 rating, up marginally from last fall (+2%) but still in third place.  

And then there’s NBC.  The comedy block is a collection of underachieving returning shows.  At 8:00 pm, the final season of 30 Rock should average a 1.5 rating, slightly below Community‘s 1.6 last fall and just about what 30 Rock averaged in the time period in the winter/ spring.  Up All Night could very easily fall to a 1.3 rating at 8:30.  The audience seemed to want to like the program, but they seemed disappointed when they tuned in.  (Up started Wednesday at 8 with great promise at a 2.4 rating before quickly receding to a high-1 rating, and then a new audience on Thursday at 9:30 gave it a 2 in its first telecast before ending its run with a 1.5 rating.)   Similarly, The Office without Steve Carrell started at a 3.9 but a series of bad creative decisions plunged the show below a 3 by the end of the fall and pushed the once great show to a low-2 by May.  We are giving The Office a 2.3 average in the fall (probably premiering around a high-2 but most episodes will quickly fall to the very low-2 range).  Parks & Recreation will be fairly close to whatever The Office gives it — we’ll say a 2.1 rating.  But 10 pm is the real head-scratcher.  Rock Center struggled wherever it was sent last year, always right around a 1 rating.  Although NBC has had great difficulty with 10 pm dramas, advertisers would strongly prefer (and will pay more for) a struggling quality drama than a struggling news magazine.  Given Rock Center‘s track record, it will probably underperform Prime Suspect (1.3 rating last fall).  But even if it matches that rating, the commercials will be priced less (lower CPMs or “cost per thousand”) and generate less revenue.  From 8-11 pm, NBC could average a 1.6 rating on what used to be its signature night, down another 15% and matching its low nightly rating on Wednesday.               




Please keep in mind that these estimates for the new shows are based on the trailers produced for the advertiser upfront presentations.  As the actual pilots become available and the networks start their marketing campaigns for the new shows, we reserve the right to adjust our projections here and there.     

Check out ratings predictions for each night of the week this fall: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

About the Author

Mitch Metcalf
MITCH METCALF has been tracking every US film release of over 500 screens (over 2300 movies and counting) since the storied weekend of May 20, 1994, when Maverick and Beverly Hills Cop 3 inspired countless aficionados to devote their lives to the art of cinema. Prior to that, he studied Politics and Economics at Princeton in order to prepare for his dream of working in television. He has been Head of West Coast Research at ABC, then moved to NBC in 2000 and became Head of Scheduling for 11 years.