Slow summer could hurt broadcasters in fall

Lower ratings mean less effective promotion for new season

The broadcast networks aren’t exactly surging into September.

Just a few weeks before the onslaught of new series begins, the Big Four are finishing up their most slumbering summer in memory, outside of the ratings fireworks provided by the Olympics. No new show popped, and most returning summer skeins were down, some significantly. As a result, the nets have had lower circulation, which means fewer eyeballs to absorb promotion for fall’s frosh crop.

Gordon Ramsay ranks as the summer triathlon winner with solid perfs from his three Fox skeins.

“MasterChef” has been the only returning summer show on the Big Four to post year-over-year gains in adults 18-49. “Hell’s Kitchen” has hung tough in its 10th cycle with single-digit declines, while his “Hotel Hell” saw the highest-rated preem of the season on Aug. 13.NBC, of course, demonstrated the power of broadcast TV to draw massive audiences as the Peacock’s primetime Olympics coverage averaged 31.1 million viewers each night from July 27-Aug. 12.

But the Peacock has weathered a big drop for its summer centerpiece, “America’s Got Talent.” The talent competish maintained its ranking as summer’s top-rated series in adults 18-49, but it’s off 18% vs. 2011 in the key demo to date (3.3 rating/10 share vs. 4.0/12) and down 19% in total viewers (11.3 mil vs. 13.9 mil). Its heavily promoted newbie “Stars Earn Stripes” has done only modest business since its post-Olympics Aug. 13 premiere.

CBS’ “Big Brother” has also taken a big tumble, dropping 22% in the key demo (2.5/8) and 20% in total viewers (6.6 mil) compared to its summer 2011 run. ABC’s “Bachelorette” has held on in 18-49 (2.9/9) but has shed 8% in viewers (8.3 mil). “Wipeout” is down 10% in 18-49 (1.9/6) and 17% in viewers (5.8 mil).

New shows that landed with a thud and are unlikely to see a second summer include dating skeins “3” (yanked by CBS after two airings), ABC’s “Duets” and “The Glass House” and Fox’s “Take Me Out” and “The Choice.”

The heat of the Summer Olympics skew the summer-to-summer comparisons — and likely sapped the momentum of summer staples like “Big Brother” and “Wipeout.”

From Memorial Day weekend through Sunday (May 26-Aug. 26), Fox is ahead of ABC and CBS in adults 18-49 (1.6/5) by a nose, down 6% from last summer. CBS leads Fox and ABC in total viewers (5.4 mil, down 14%). With the Olympics lift, NBC is up 76% in the key demo (3.0/9) and 73% in viewers (10 mil).

Following “America’s Got Talent,” broadcast TV’s top five summer skeins in adults 18-49 are “Hell’s Kitchen” (3.0/9), “MasterChef” (2.9/8), “The Bachelorette” (2.9/9) and Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” (2.7/8).

For the week ending Sunday, the Big Four logged a ho-hum late summer frame, with CBS and NBC tying for No. 1 in 18-49 (1.5/4), followed by Fox (1.4/4) and ABC (1.1/3). In viewers, CBS had a comfortable lead (5.8 mil) over NBC (5.1 mil), ABC (4 mil) and Fox (3.7 mil).

NBC’s NFL pre-season showcase game on Sunday logged the week’s top 18-49 score (3.3/9). “Grimm” (1.7/5) held up respectably in its second outing in the Monday 10 p.m. slot, easing only 15% in the demo from its preem.

Sunday’s “60 Minutes” and “Big Brother” kept the lights on for CBS. Fox was popped up by the Ramsay trio, led by Monday’s edition of “Hell’s Kitchen.”

ABC trailed its rivals for the frame, drawing its 18-49 number from Thursday’s edition of “Wipeout” (1.5/4).

Among cablers, TNT continued to impress with its new Monday drama “Major Crimes” (5.4 mil). USA Network’s “Burn Notice” on Thursday wrapped the first half of its sixth season with 5 million viewers while HBO’s “True Blood” (5 mil) hit a season high with its fifth-season finale on Sunday.