Fall Report Card: Fox, CBS Are Teacher’s Pets; ABC Earning Solid B’s

NBC is left lagging

Look past the flaming dirigible that is NBC and you’ll find that it’s been nothing but blue skies for the broadcast networks.

Through the first eight weeks of the 2011-12 campaign, Fox has enjoyed remarkable year-over-year growth, averaging 9.03 million viewers in prime (up 35 percent) and a first-place 3.1 rating in the all-important 18-49 demo (up 29 percent).

Once content to let American Idol do much of the heavy lifting in the second half of the season, Fox has put together its strongest fall lineup in memory. The Zooey Deschanel comedy New Girl is one of this year’s four indisputable new hits; per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data, the show is averaging 8.48 million viewers and a 4.1 in the demo in its 9 p.m. Tuesday time slot.

New Girl’s deliveries are up 39 percent from the year-ago occupant, Raising Hope.

Also drawing a crowd is Fox’s The X Factor, the glitzy talent show from Idol starmaker/grumpus Simon Cowell. The Wednesday night performance showcase is averaging 11.6 million viewers and a 4.0 rating, while Thursday’s results show is drawing 11.7 million viewers and a 3.9.

On paper, X Factor’s numbers are certainly impressive. That said, the series is falling short of its guarantees by as many as two whole ratings points. When Fox sold the show during the spring upfront, it said it would serve up a 6.0 in the demo—or roughly 7.5 million adults 18-49. Instead, X Factor is drawing around 5.38 million members of the target demo.

Advertisers shelled out as much as $400,000 for a 30-second spot on X Factor, making it the most expensive newcomer in TV history. While no reductions have been made as yet, media buyers suggest that pricing is likely to be adjusted downward in the 2012-13 cycle.

Despite the prospect of having to compensate clients with bonus inventory, Fox is pleased with X Factor’s early showing. If nothing else, the network wants to keep Cowell happy—along with his demonstrated knack for hit-making, he has a considerable amount of juice with clients. (Cowell takes the credit for sealing X Factor’s $60 million sponsorship deal with PepsiCo.)

News Corp. president, COO and deputy chairman Chase Carey said Fox is not in a make-good situation with X Factor or any other show. Speaking to investors earlier this month, Carey said, “we don’t have any make-good issues anywhere on the network,” adding that Fox feels “pretty good” about the show. “We make real money off of it, which is why we just picked it up for a second year,” he said.

Far and away the most-watched network on the dial, CBS is also putting up big numbers in the dollar demo. Per Nielsen L+SD data, the Tiffany Network is averaging 11.4 million viewers and a 2.9 rating in prime, up 4 percent versus the year-ago period.

Whereas Fox has scored with its new series, CBS is mixing it up. Its sitcom 2 Broke Girls is the No. 1 new show on TV, averaging 12.3 million viewers and a 4.8 in the demo. All told, six CBS series are posting 4.0 ratings or better, including: Two and a Half Men (6.4); The Big Bang Theory (4.9); How I Met Your Mother (4.4); Mike & Molly (4.2) and NCIS (4.1). The latter is averaging 19.6 million viewers per episode, making it the biggest draw of any property that isn’t affiliated with the National Football League.

CBS had the lightest load of new series heading into the fall season, slating just five freshman shows. Of these, three have been given full-season orders (2 Broke Girls, Person of Interest, Unforgettable) and one has been canceled (How to Be a Gentleman). While the Friday night drama A Gifted Man is averaging a meager 1.2 in the demo, the show generally finishes second in its 8 p.m. time slot, when HUT levels are particularly low. To that end, CBS is likely to order further episodes of Gifted.

Perhaps the biggest story to play out thus far has to do with the revival of the comedy Two and a Half Men. After Charlie Sheen did everything in his power to kill the show, it bounced back with a new lead (Ashton Kutcher). Season-to-date, deliveries are up a whopping 28 percent to 17.8 million total viewers; more importantly, the demo has jumped 39 percent, from 4.6 to 6.4.

With little competition in its Thursday 8 p.m. niche—a time slot once occupied by the canceled ABC series Charlie’s Angels and the criminally ignored NBC comedy Community—The Big Bang Theory is enjoying a healthy growth spurt. With an average draw of 14.7 million viewers and a 4.9 rating, Bang’s deliveries are up 12 percent from a year ago.

ABC has slipped 3 percent with an average delivery of 8.84 million viewers and a 2.4 rating, per L+SD data. (When the available six weeks of live-seven data are blended with two weeks of L+SD, ABC is flat with a 2.8.)

Although ABC endured one of the most high-profile cancelations of the season, the failure of Charlie’s Angels hasn’t had a trickle-down effect. The network has given full-season orders to a pair of comedies (Last Man Standing, Suburgatory) and a pair of genre projects. The sudsy Revenge is averaging a solid 2.7 rating and 8.49 million viewers in its Wednesday 10 p.m. slot, while the loopy fairy tale Once Upon a Time is the season’s biggest new drama hit, averaging a 3.9 rating Sunday nights at 8 p.m.

The series that has held on against increasingly steep odds is Pan Am, which has fallen precipitously since its premiere. The kicky period piece bowed Sept. 25 to 11.1 million viewers and a 3.1 rating; in its most recent airing, Pan Am skidded to a meager 5.64 million viewers and a 1.8 rating. Despite all the turbulence, ABC entertainment president Paul Lee has ordered another five scripts.

Now in its third season, ABC’s Modern Family continues to soar, averaging 13.2 million viewers and a 5.6 in the demo, up 17 percent versus the first eight weeks of last season. Modern Family’s success inspired ABC to establish a second comedy front on Tuesday night, a strategy that has been met with mixed results. Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing is averaging 10.9 million viewers and a 3.1 rating at 8 p.m., but lead-out Man Up! can’t hold onto the baton. Through four episodes, the formulaic comedy is averaging 6.79 million viewers and a 2.0 rating, down 37 percent from the earlier half-hour.

If Fox, CBS and ABC can all point to a number of areas in which they’ve improved—or all-out dominate—NBC once again has very little to crow about. If not for Sunday Night Football, NBC would be down to a single show with a 3.0 rating. (New-look The Office is averaging a 3.1 in the demo.)

Luckily, NBC can lay claim to SNF through at least the end of the 2013 NFL season. Through its first 10 SNF broadcasts, the Peacock is averaging a record 21.4 million viewers and an 8.6 rating in the demo.

As befits a network that draws 6.99 million viewers and a 2.4 rating, NBC this season has endured a number of flameouts. After low ratings forced NBC to put the kibosh on The Playboy Club, a cancelation was also in order for the comedy Free Agents. Production on the Maria Bello cop drama Prime Suspect will come to a halt at the end of the month; after failing to connect with viewers on Thursday nights, the reboot was left off NBC’s mid-season schedule.

Meanwhile, the newsmagazine Rock Center With Brian Williams opened considerably lower than former time slot occupant Playboy Club
, averaging a 1.0 rating in its maiden voyage. NBCU has made a three-year commitment to the program, which is hosted by Brian Williams.

To date, NBC has given full-seaon orders to two series. Up All Night is averaging a 2.0 rating in its Wednesday 8 p.m. slot, while the polarizing Whitney is pulling a 2.2 Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m. In January, the two comedies will swap places on the schedule.

While no one expects any miracles on Friday night, the new fairy tale/procedural hybrid Grimm is doing yeoman’s work at 9 p.m., averaging 5.92 million viewers and a 1.8 rating through three airings.

NBCU CEO Steve Burke has said that it could take a few years to bail out the foundering broadcaster. “We certainly don’t expect to see anything in the next year,” Burke told investors in February. “I don’t think we’re going to see [marked improvement] for a while.”

Entertainment president Bob Greenblatt may have a pair of aces up his sleeve, however. NBC in February will bring The Voice back for its second season, pairing the show with Greenblatt’s pet project, the Katherine McPhee vehicle, Smash.

In the final five weeks of the 2010-11 broadcast season, The Voice averaged 11.1 million viewers and a 4.9 rating among adults 18-49. In this past upfront, the show commanded a cool $200,000 per 30-second spot, making it NBC’s second most expensive series. (A spot in Sunday Night Football runs north of $500,000.)

Per live-seven data, the Spanish-language net Univision is holding onto fifth place among all U.S. broadcasters, averaging 3.63 million viewers and a 1.5 in the demo. The CW is sixth (2.14 million/1.0).