Summertime Blues: New Off-Season Broadcast Series Founder

Sports and old standbys keeping networks afloat

Like a Band-Aid floating in a public swimming pool, broadcast’s new summer series are turning out to be a total bummer.

Of the nine new shows introduced thus far in the sleepy season, only one—Fox’s The Choice—is averaging a 1.5 rating among adults 18-49. What’s more, a few of the freshman efforts have failed to deliver so much as a 1.0 in the advertiser-coveted demo.

The plague of flops has spared no network, although ABC may be a bit more exposed than its rivals. The network has taken the wraps off three new series since the summer began—the singing competition Duets; The Glass House, which might charitably be described as an homage to CBS’ Big Brother; and the true-crime strip Final Witness—and has another in the hopper (Trust Us With Your Life).

Leading out of four repeats Wednesday night, Final Witness bowed to 4.21 million viewers and a 1.0 in the demo, per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings. This marks the lowest-rated premiere for ABC this summer, as Duets arrived on May 24 with an audience of 6.76 million viewers and a 1.7 rating, while The Glass House drew 3.98 million viewers and a 1.5 rating in its June 18 debut.

Through its first five episodes, Duets is averaging 5.22 million viewers and a 1.3 in the demo. Given the star power on hand (the judges are the singers Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Jennifer Nettles and Robin Thicke), those are disappointing numbers, even for a summer series. It’s likely that viewers have had their fill of the musical-competition genre, given the ubiquity of established series like American Idol, The Voice, The X Factor and America’s Got Talent.

The Glass House is in a deeper funk, having lost nearly 900,000 viewers and 27 percent of its premiere demo in its second week on the air. The June 25 installment scared up a mere 3.09 million viewers and a 1.1 rating.

ABC’s top-rated summer series is The Bachelorette, now in its eighth cycle. Remarkably consistent, the heavy-breathing dating show is averaging 7.09 million viewers and a 2.3 in the demo, and is on track to deliver its highest ratings in three seasons.

The network can claim bragging rights to the summer’s biggest draw, as the NBA Finals were the highest-rated five-game series since 2004. The Heat-Thunder showdown averaged 16.9 million viewers and a 7.1 in the demo, up 8 percent from the first five games of last year’s pro hoops finals.

Fox is also in something of a bind, as its two summer newcomers are wilting in the heat. Hosted by George Lopez, the competitive-dating strip Take Me Out is averaging a meager 3.04 million viewers and a 1.2 rating in its Thursday 8 p.m. time slot. Meanwhile, The Choice, a snarky goof on NBC’s spinning-chairs series, is averaging 4.05 million viewers and a 1.6 rating in the lead-out slot.

The network’s established series have been fairly steady. Ratings for Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen-MasterChef block are on par with last season’s, and while So You Think You Can Dance is showing its age—the May 30 season premiere was down 27 percent versus the 2011 opener—with an average 2.4 in the demo, it’s the second highest-rated series of the summer.

No. 1 belongs to NBC, which spruced up America’s Got Talent with the addition of shock jock Howard Stern. Season to date AGT is averaging 10.9 million viewers and a 3.2 in the demo, making it far and away the top performer of the steamy season.

Unfortunately, NBC also has stewardship of one of the season’s biggest bombs. The Canadian hospital drama Saving Hope demonstrates why broadcasters are wary of introducing scripted series in the summer, averaging a feeble 3.30 million viewers and an 0.6 rating among adults 18-49 since making its June 7 debut.

Of course, NBC will make up for its slow start next month, when it devotes 17 days to the 2012 Summer Olympics. NBCU president of research and development Alan Wurtzel said he believes the London Games will stand among the top five TV events of all time, with as many as 200 million viewers expected to tune in between July 27 and Aug. 12.

Preferring to kick back and relax in the off season, CBS to date has bowed only one new summer series. Through its first five episodes, Dogs in the City is putting up uncharacteristically poor numbers for a CBS show, averaging 5.42 million viewers and a 1.1 in the demo.

Also on deck for CBS are Big Brother, which returns for its 14th cycle on Thursday, July 12, and the new unscripted dating series, 3, which is set to air in a special 90-minute premiere on Sunday, July 22.

Lastly, The CW’s ratings woes don’t seem to have taken any time off, as its two new summer series have failed to draw a crowd. Through five episodes, The Catalina is averaging just 680,000 viewers and an 0.3 rating in the adults 18-34 demo, while the ballet-focused Breaking Pointe is averaging 805,000 viewers and an 0.3. 

Each series will conclude its limited run the week of July 1.