6 Big Takeaways From the First Week of the New TV Season

Linear ratings continue to fall, but don't discount broadcast just yet

Thursday Night Football, This Is Us, Will & Grace and Young Sheldon all drew big ratings last week. Sources: Getty Images, NBC, CBS
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The first full week of the 2017-18 season is in the books, and while ratings were down overall, the news was better than expected for several of the broadcasters, who were able to attract sizable audiences to their biggest new and returning shows.

NBC, which won last season in the 18-49 demo, continued its streak, topping the other broadcasters with a 2.1 rating. CBS was second with a 1.9—but had a commanding lead in total viewers with 9.5 million, almost 2 million more than second place NBC—followed by ABC (1.3) and Fox (1.0). (The CW, which doesn’t premiere its fall shows until next week, is excluded from this analysis.)

Here are the six biggest takeaways from the first week of the new TV season:

1. Linear ratings continue to fall

The steady exodus from live linear viewing continues, as three out of the four broadcast networks were down double-digits in the 18-49 demo versus the first week of the 2016-17 season. NBC fell 16 percent (from a 2.5 to a 2.1), CBS dropped 24 percent (from a 2.5 to a 1.9) and Fox had a 17 percent drop (from a 1.2 to 1.0). ABC was flat with a 1.3.

Anticipating this continued linear slide, all of the broadcast network presidents insisted during the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour that their networks are stronger than ever, given that many of their shows double their audiences in delayed viewing on several platforms. However, they’re still not able to fully monetize those viewers.

2. Sizable linear sampling is still possible

For all of the hand-wringing about the inability to get audiences to watch linear TV, the networks were able to attract larger audiences to sample some of their biggest shows—and the ones buyers picked as their best bets for fall—Young Sheldon and The Good Doctor.

The Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon, which CBS scheduled after The Big Bang Theory’s season premiere, was watched by 17.2 million viewers, earning a 3.8 rating in the demo and making it the most-watched comedy premiere on any network since 2011. Two days later, CBS gave the series a full-season order. But now the network will have to make sure that audiences haven’t forgotten about the show when it returns on Nov. 2, a scheduling approach that CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl admitted was “unusual.”

ABC, which has struggled to find traction for its 10 p.m. dramas, had some great news last Monday with The Good Doctor—which ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey told Adweek would be her most improved time slot this fall. The drama improved on its Dancing with the Stars lead-in, with 11.2 million viewers and a 2.2 demo rating, and maintained that audience for its second week, which is rare among freshman shows. UPDATE: ABC gave The Good Doctor a full-season pickup on Tuesday afternoon.

3. This Is Us hasn’t peaked yet

After last year’s breakout hit This Is Us wrapped its first season, NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt told Adweek, “I think this show will continue to grow” as more viewers catch up over the summer. That feeling was shared by Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships, who made the show one of her centerpieces during upfront negotiations.

Greenblatt and Yaccarino’s hunches were proven correct, as last Tuesday’s Season 2 premiere set new series records in total viewers (12.9 million) and the 18-49 demo (3.9), growing from the Season 1 finale (which drew 12.8 million viewers ad 3.4 in the demo). In live-plus-3 numbers, This Is Us overtook The Big Bang Theory as the No. 1 show in the demo, 5.7 to 5.5.

In contrast, broadcast’s last big freshman hit, Empire, was already losing steam by the time it returned two years ago for Season 2. But This Is Us is still on the rise.

4. With Will & Grace’s return, NBC is partying like it’s 1999

NBC’s decision to revive Will & Grace—and then renew it a month before it even debuted—paid off last Thursday, as the show debuted to 10.2 million viewers, and a 3.0 demo rating, making it the network’s top premiere for a new or returning comedy (outside of post-Olympics previews) in six years, and the most watched telecast of a primetime comedy series since The Office finale in May 2013. The show nearly tripled NBC’s time slot demo average last season, which was 1.1.

5. Football has rebounded on several networks

Sorry, Donald Trump, but NFL ratings are not “way down” this season, at least not across the board. Thursday Night Football’s ratings were up 3 percent from last year, while on ESPN, Monday Night Football ratings are up 10 percent year- over-year. Fox Sports’ ratings have increased 3 percent year-over-year, excluding the week one ratings were impacted by Hurricane Irma.

Sunday Night Football, however, has seen some erosion. Sunday’s game was down 13 percent in the demo and 7 percent in total viewers, but still topped all broadcast shows in 18-49 numbers last week. “Don’t worry; Sunday and Thursday will still be in the top five for this year,” Yaccarino predicted in August of the NFL primetime packages.

6. Fox is already in a big demo hole

Fox rose to No. 2 in the 18-49 demo last season, thanks to the Super Bowl and the World Series, but the network opened the new season in fourth place, with a demo number that was less than half of first-place NBC’s.

Last night’s debut of The Gifted—one of several new Marvel shows—might provide some relief, as the show’s 1.5 demo number bested its CBS sitcom competitors, Kevin Can Wait and Me, Myself and I. But the network will have to hope for another record-breaking World Series to crawl out of its demo hole this fall.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.