Ryan Murphy on ‘Scream Queens’ Ratings Bump: Overnights Aren’t Everything

Lea Michele Ryan Murphy Abigail Breslin
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Wednesday morning brought surprising news for Fox execs and the “Scream Queens” creative team: After a premiere night that saw a flurry of social activity on Twitter and other platforms, the overnight ratings for the new horror/comedy series were a bit of a disappointment, bringing in 4 million viewers overall.

That all changed Sunday morning, when the live-plus-three-day (L3) ratings were released, giving the show an 80% lift, to a new total of 7.3 million across all platforms, including Fox Now and Hulu. What’s more, the median age of the show dropped from 52 to 36.

Now they’re celebrating a success story that hopes to change the way we talk about ratings.

“The story of the fall is just how much people are time-shifting and watching programming in new and much more dramatic ways than even six months ago,” says executive producer Ryan Murphy.

He admits he was “confused” on Wednesday morning, but says he’s had a huge learning curve as the week went on and viewing numbers started to come on from digital platforms. Nielsen’s overnights are only telling half the story, he says. “It’s like reporting on a football game after the first quarter,” he says.

And it’s particularly true for a show that’s targeting a younger demo, like “Scream Queens.” “A lot of younger viewers look at viewing live like they look at MySpace,” he says. “It’s uncool. They’re not going to do it.”

Murphy reports he asked the show’s cast how they watch TV. “Not a single one between 18 and 28 even own a TV,” he says. “They want to watch how they want to watch when they want to watch it.”

He compares it to what he’s learned from “American Horror Story,” which has seen exponential growth in viewers over the course of its four seasons. “Anything that is horror, the viewing audience is biggest on the weekends, because young women want to watch it during the day with the lights on,” he says.

And he has the full support of his bosses, Fox’s chairman and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman. “Different kinds of viewers watch TV in different kinds of ways,” he says. “If you’re going to be a broadcast platform you’ve got to understand that. They’re excited in a weird way that their shows could be a model for how we’re judging contemporary broadcast and cable viewership.”

Walden readily agrees. “We knew in our hearts it would be the number one show among 18-34,” she says. “It’s very gratifying not even having the whole picture yet,” adding that she expects the L7 numbers to climb into the double digits.

While she says it’s tempting to jump on live/same day numbers, “It’s no longer the way we can look at our business,” she says. “This is the watercooler show. We knew once we had greater measurements to look at, it would be told in an accurate way. Being a trailblazer is hard.”

Fox execs say they’ll wait to look at the full ratings picture before making any decisions about renewing the show.

Of course, Murphy hopes all this buzz fuels more interest in what’s to come on “Scream Queens.” He’s planned three Halloween-themed episodes, which have traditionally delivered upticks for “American Horror Story,” and the show will now premiere behind the network’s new comedies “Grandfathered” (starring John Stamos) and “The Grinder” (with Rob Lowe).

“I’m optimistic about the month of October,” he says.