Projecting a TV series’ long-term prospects on the basis of a single broadcast is a puzzling seasonal compulsion, a ritual on par with the creation of back-to-school macaroni art. Just as you can’t accurately predict that your kid is going to grow up to be the next Robert Rauschenberg on the basis of his facility with elbow macaroni and Elmer’s Glue, nor can any meaningful conclusions be drawn from Premiere Week ratings.
Still, who are we to tamper or dally with tradition? (Besides, what sort of monster begrudges macaroni art?) Here’s what the first week of Nielsen data tells us about the 2013-14 TV season:
1) Broadcast isn’t dead. It’s not even sick.
Through Sept. 26, the Big Four were up 5 percent in the 18-49 demo versus the year-ago period. Some of that had to do with healthy sampling of new series—Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC) bowed to a brawny 12.1 million viewers and a 4.7 rating, NBC’s The Blacklist drew 12.6 million viewers and a 3.8 in the demo, and CBS’ The Crazy Ones scared up an insane 15.6 million viewers/4.0 rating—but the returning series were no slouches, either. The CBS warhorse NCIS returned to a whopping 20 million viewers, The Big Bang Theory put up a monster 5.6 rating, and NBC’s The Voice surpassed expectations with 15.0 million viewers and a 5.1 in the dollar demo.
2) Crime pays. Genre slays.
Along with the aforementioned NCIS, CBS’ Criminal Minds and NBC’s deathless Law & Order: SVU continued to pack ’em in. Meanwhile, Joss Whedon’s superhero bureaucracy Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. looks to be a lifesaver for ABC, and Fox is almost certain to renew Sleepy Hollow, which retained 89 percent of its audience in Week 2 and pulled a 5.0 rating upon application of three days of DVR playback.
3) Don’t buy any green bananas.
Things are already looking grim for Lucky 7, which now bears the unhappy distinction of being the lowest-rated (1.3) fall drama premiere in ABC history. “As excited as ABC probably is with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., they have to be equally disappointed with how the audience went away throughout the rest of night,” said Sam Armando, svp, director of strategic intelligence, SMGx. “It’s difficult to project that Lucky 7 will build as the year goes on.”
4) Keep calm and carry on.
Hostages got stomped by The Blacklist on Monday night, but CBS likely will take a long, hard look at the DVR data before it sends the show to Belize. “One thing that the data shows is …boy, is time-shifted viewing important before any decisions can be made,” Armando said. “Week 2 is when things should really shake out.” (Indeed, after three days of DVR deliveries are taken into account, the Hostages premiere improved 50 percent to a respectable 2.7 rating.)