Winners and bombs in tough fall TV network landscape

(From far left) Actors Chrissy Metz, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia at the screening of This Is Us in California in September. The feel-good family drama is NBC's breakout star of the season.
(From far left) Actors Chrissy Metz, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia at the screening of This Is Us in California in September. The feel-good family drama is NBC's breakout star of the season.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Well, it could be worse. As HBO's Westworld sucks up the attention of online commentators this fall, network TV has been slogging along.

With the 2016-2017 television season approaching its midway point, there are some clear winners (NBC's This Is Us), some bombs (ABC's Notorious) and many shows that fall somewhere in between. Ratings are, once again, down across the board, dropping 8 per cent among adults and 4 per cent in total audience, according to the television research firm Nielsen, but each network can at least make a plausible claim that it has a new show with a strong pulse.

Here are some highlights from the fall season for the four biggest networks.


NBC's feel-good family drama This Is Us is the breakout star of the season.

The show, which features a sprawling cast that includes Mandy Moore and Sterling K. Brown, has elbowed its way into the top three best-rated broadcast shows, just behind The Big Bang Theory on CBS and Empire on Fox. Most noteworthy: This Is Us opened big and has kept its audience intact.


Here is some good news for ABC: Grey's Anatomy (in its 13th season) and Modern Family (in its eighth season) are among the highest- rated shows on network television. The new drama Designated Survivor is a top 10 scripted network show, though its ratings declined after a hot start. The returning comedy Black-ish and two newcomers, Speechless and American Housewife, are doing fine.

As for the rest of the line-up, it is ugly. Start with Thursday, which was long a dominant force for the network, thanks to a slew of Shonda Rhimes shows.

With ABC moving Scandal to the midseason to accommodate the pregnancy of its star, Kerry Washington, the network elected to put Notorious, a legal drama that is essentially a Rhimes knock-off, in the vital 9pm slot; the move has not worked out. The show was panned by critics and rejected by viewers, garnering a tepid 0.9 rating among adults. The failure of Notorious may have also put a dent in How To Get Away With Murder (produced by Rhimes), which airs after Notorious. Murder was already losing viewers at a fast clip last year.


Fox's Empire has fallen to second place and losses for the series are mounting; the show has lost more than 20 per cent of its same-day audience.

The revival of Lethal Weapon has performed nicely, but the network does not have any other could-be hits.

The second season of Ryan Murphy's Scream Queens, even with delayed viewing factored in, is shedding viewers. Fox executives are hoping that the network's reboot of 24 will provide the same midseason relief that The X-Files revival did last year.


CBS, though, continues to be the most-watched network by a wide margin. The Big Bang Theory, in its 10th season, has remarkably reclaimed the No. 1 slot in broadcast TV.

Its new drama Bull and its freshman comedy Kevin Can Wait have done well, though the network is still hunting for a breakout hit.

New shows are not getting cancelled anymore, not quickly anyway. This was a trend that television executives marvelled at last year: As late as the middle of this month, no show had been cancelled. In previous years, it usually took only a couple of weeks.

Thanks to a mountain of ratings statistics - factoring in digital streams and DVR views from three to 30 days after an episode's original broadcast - executives are being cautious about hitting the cancel button too quickly.

Even if a show does not perform well live, there is hope that viewers may binge-watch it, thus salvaging it.

The other reason?

Reruns do not do as well as they used to and there are few other options for networks aside from playing out the string and hoping that shows find an audience.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Winners and bombs in tough fall TV network landscape'. Print Edition | Subscribe