As Dec. 25 approaches, parents are warning children to make sure they end up on Santa's nice list, and stay far away from his naughty list. But what if the big red guy was focusing on the TV networks' 2014 behavior as he made those lists and checked them twice? The lineup would look a little something like this:
It was a very good year for the Peacock Network, which won the 2013-14 season in 18-49 (a 2.7 average), its first demo victory in 10 years. The network picked up where it left off this fall, where it's once again leading the pack in 18-49 (thanks largely to Sunday Night Football and The Voice). Not even Peter Pan Live's disappointing ratings can stall NBC's momentum, especially with Super Bowl XLIX waiting in the wings on Feb. 1.
ABC is still very much a work in progress, but its top three scripted series are higher rated in 18-49 than any broadcast series except The Big Bang Theory (Modern Family, 3.41; Scandal, 3.16; freshman hit How to Get Away with Murder, 3.04). This fall, it shored up Thursdays with its powerhouse Shonda Rhimes-produced #TGIT lineup, and after six years, finally discovered a suitable time slot partner for Modern Family (the terrific Black-ish).
It might not win the race in 18-49 (except when it comes to Big Bang Theory, which is averaging 4.56, a full ratings point higher than any other scripted series on broadcast TV), but CBS remains the most-watched broadcast network in total viewers (averaging 10.7 million this season), and has added two new freshman hits to its arsenal in Scorpion (2.36) and NCIS: New Orleans (2.28) (a third, Madam Secretary, is drawing an impressive 12.67 million viewers, but only a 1.61 rating in 18-49). That keeps it solidly on the nice list.
The network went two for two this fall, as The Flash became its highest-rated show in 18-49 (1.53, 50 percent more than its number two show, Arrow, at 1.01, and ahead of other media darlings like New Girl and The Good Wife), and the critically-acclaimed Jane the Virgin, who landed two Golden Globes nominations last week. For a network that routinely comes up small, this was a year to remember.
FX's shows Fargo and The Americans were mainstays on year-end top 10 lists, while some of its other series are receiving plenty of Nielsen love. The premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show was the most-watched telecast in FX history, with 6.54 million viewers in 18-49 (live-plus-three ratings), while Sons of Anarchy's just-wrapped final season was the highest-rated season of any FX series (averaging 5 million 18-49 viewers, again in live-plus-three). Plus, The Simpsons helped saved FXX.
Three words: Game of Thrones. This year's Season 4 premiere drew 6.6 million total viewers, the network's biggest audience since The Sopranos season finale in 2007, and the drama averaged 18 million gross weekly viewers. HBO is also leading the pack on Emmy night, with 19 wins (out of a whopping 99 nominations). And the industry is already buzzing about the network's plans to finally launch a streaming network for non-subscribers next year.
This is a year that Fox would like to forget. By the time then-entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly departed in May, the damage was already done. Four of its five fall shows have been canceled or production has ceased (farewell Utopia, Gracepoint, Red Band Society and Mulaney), while Season 1 hit Sleepy Hollow cratered in its return (its 1.64 18-49 rating is a 37 percent drop from last season). And let's not forget the whole "R.I.P. Pilot Season" debacle. And not even American Idol can save the network any longer. Fox, which does have one new hit in Gotham (2.48), can only hope that this is rock bottom.
Consider this the tale of two networks: one has The Walking Dead (7.46—no, not a typo), which outrates even the mighty Sunday Night Football in 18-49 some weeks. The other has, well, everything else. The first part of Mad Men's final season fell to a 0.7 (down from a 0.9 the previous season). Two new dramas were renewed despite minimal interest (Halt and Catch Fire, which averaged a 0.25, and Turn, which averaged a 0.39 and is now being called Turn: Washington's Spies for whatever reason). Then the network threw in the towel on unscripted series. With its Walking Dead spinoff at least a year away from airing (the pilot will be shot early next year), the company's non-Walking Dead future hinges on Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul, which debuts in February.
In 2013, the network was flying high with Duck Dynasty (which in August 2013 hit a 5.0 in 18-49), but everything has fallen apart after its tepid response to last year's controversy with star Phil Robertson. Last month's season premiere plummeted to a 1.0. The rest of the year fared even worse for the network, which pulled its new drama Those Who Kill in March after just two episodes had aired (what does it think it is, a broadcast network?). It also canceled its second most-popular show, Longmire, which skewed too old for its advertisers (Netflix snapped it up for Season 4).
The "blue skies" network got a little grayer this year. As it bid farewell to stalwarts Psych and White Collar, its summer newbies had very little success in picking up the baton: Sophomore show Graceland and new drama Satisfaction were renewed with a 0.47 and 0.41, respectively, while freshman drama Rush was canceled with a 0.40). Its ambitious Dig was pushed to spring as violence in the Middle East upended its shooting schedule, and the network also announced that it was dropping most of its comedy development and refocusing on dramas.
It was business as usual for the network in 2014, until it pulled the plug on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo after disturbing details came to light over June "Mama June" Shannon's reported relationship with a sex offender. While the network made the right call, its statement announcing the decision—"Supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children is our only priority. TLC is faithfully committed to the children's ongoing comfort and well-being"—seemed outrageous, given the degree to which the network had gleefully exploited the family for ratings until that point. Like A&E did with Duck Dynasty, the network played with fire by getting into business with Thompson-Shannon family—and got burned.