TV ratings race can be misleading

CBS, ABC quietly boost profiles with top scripted shows

Hot reality shows and major sports like the NFL are certainly good ways to boost bottom-line averages, but when it comes to the overall strength of a network, the best measuring stick is still dramas and comedies.

And as this season wraps, one could easily make the case that CBS — which will finish No. 2 to Fox in the key 18-49 demo but dominates among scripted skeins — is primetime’s strongest network. Also, ABC may well finish a bit behind NBC for third place, but the Alphabet is clearly farther along on the comeback trail than the Peacock.

Among the season’s top 30 scripted shows in 18-49 (well, top 31 since there’s a tie at 30), CBS can claim 14 of them. Fox, whose top show is “American Idol” and whose top new show was “The X Factor,” airs eight of the shows, ABC has seven and NBC just two.

While Fox usually doesn’t stack up well in such rankings because it programs seven fewer hours a week than CBS, the network clearly has some work to do on the scripted side — especially drama, where three of its eight top-30 shows from this season (retiring “House” and canceled rookies “Terra Nova” and “Alcatraz”) won’t be returning.

NBC’s third-place ranking, meanwhile, was propped up for the first half of the season by the NFL, and then got off to a strong start with singing contest “The Voice.” Thanks to these two properties, the Peacock had more primetime half-hour increments this season in which it did a 6 or higher same-night rating in 18-49 (a total of 98) than Fox (51), CBS (28) and ABC (8) combined.

NBC finished ahead of ABC numerous times during football season and enjoyed some other winter success with “The Voice,” but the Alphabet beat the Peacock in each of the final 10 weeks of the season.

ABC, the only Big Four net that doesn’t air NFL action, has to work harder to keep up in the overall standings. And although it has plenty of timeslots that could use improvement, the net will finish the season with TV’s top-rated drama (“Grey’s Anatomy”), comedy (“Modern Family”) and new drama (“Once Upon a Time”).

NBC, on the other hand, can’t point to much outside of football and “The Voice,” with downtrending “The Office” and new drama “Smash” as its only top 30 scripted programs. Key for the net going forward will be either launching shows on their own at 8 o’clock or putting something behind “The Voice” that sticks.

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