2017 saw some cable shows soar to new ratings heights, while others experienced hard falls from lofty perches.
“Game of Thrones” (HBO) put up record numbers in its seventh season as the epic fantasy series begins to draw to a close; several other of the cabler’s originals improved dramatically as well. But then there are shows like AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Though still a ratings powerhouse in the midst of its eighth season, the zombie drama has suffered steep losses in the last year that may not be reversed when it resumes in 2018.
Meanwhile, cable news channels are still enjoying record numbers, more than likely thanks to near 24-hour coverage of the Trump administration. The big three cable news networks — Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC — had some of their best numbers ever in 2017 with no signs of slowing down.
Here is Variety‘s analysis of cable ratings winners and losers. (All data is Nielsen Live+Same Day unless otherwise specified.)
Love him or hate him, Donald Trump’s presidency has continued to fuel stellar ratings for CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. Fox News finished as the most-watched basic cable channel for the second year in a row, averaging 2.42 million viewers in primetime and 1.5 million in total day. 2017 was also Fox News’ best year on record in total day viewership. CNN also had a banner year in total day, with the network’s 783,000 viewers in the key news demographic of adults 25-54 marking it’s highest numbers ever in that measure. MSNBC, meanwhile, posted massive percentage gains in all key measures. The network grew by 51 percent in total viewers and 37 percent in the demo for primetime, and 47 percent in viewers and 33 percent in the demo for total day.
“The Sinner” (USA)
USA Network’s limited series starring Jessica Biel was a breakout hit for the network. The show was the number one new cable show of the year, averaging 3.85 million viewers per episode in Live+3 viewing, with 1.56 of those falling in the adults 18-49 demographic. It was also the top new drama series of the summer in all of television among in all key demos and was this summer’s number two ad supported cable series in total viewers, behind only “American Horror Story” Season 7. Whether or not the show returns for a second season remains to be seen.
“Game of Thrones” fans had to wait a little longer than usual for the new season to arrive, but once it did, the ratings soared faster than a dragon taking to flight. Season 7 of “Game of Thrones” was the show’s highest-rated yet, breaking several records in the process. The season finale was watched by 16.5 million viewers, including people who watched the episode as it aired and night-of streams. Of those, 12.1 million watched the episode as it aired, making it the most-watched episode in series history. But “Game of Thrones” wasn’t the only big gainer for HBO this year. New seasons of “Ballers” and “Insecure” were way up, with Issa Rae’s sophomore comedy more than doubling its audience this year. In addition, the final seasons of “Girls” and “The Leftovers” were up over their past seasons, ending both shows on a high note.
“The New Edition Story” (BET)
Way back in January, BET debuted the three-part miniseries “The New Edition Story,” charting the rise of the influential R&B group. It proved to be both a critical and a ratings hit, topping the cable charts each of the three nights it aired. When all was said and done, “The New Edition Story” proved to be the most successful cable biopic of all time in the key ratings measures, pulling in 29 million total viewers over the course of its premiere week, including delayed viewing.
“The Walking Dead”
AMC’s megahit zombie apocalypse franchise took several hits with a barbed wire-wrapped ratings bat this year. To begin, Season 7 closed out by posting the show’s lowest season finale ratings since Season 2 aired back in 2012. It was also down in both key ratings measures by double digits compared to Season 6. Season 8 did little to reverse the problem. The Season 8 premiere was the show’s lowest-rated since its third season, despite the fact that the Season 8 opener was also the show’s 100th episode. In addition, the first half of Season 8 averaged a 3.9 and 8.7 million viewers per episode. Season 7, by comparison, averaged a 5.7 in the key demo at its midway point, as well as 12.1 million viewers per episode. That represents an approximate drop of 32 percent in the demo and 28 percent in total viewers.
Showtime debuted five shows in 2017, with most failing to hit ratings pay dirt. “Guerrilla,” the British miniseries that aired on both Showtime and Sky Atlantic, posted a paltry 100,000 viewers per episode despite the star power of both Idris Elba and Freida Pinto. “I’m Dying Up Here,” the Jim Carrey-produced look at stand up comedy in 1970s LA, didn’t fare much better with 143,000 viewers per episode. “White Famous,” which stars “SNL” alum Jay Pharoah and is based on the career of Jamie Foxx (who also guest stars and executive produces), did slightly better with 263,000 but failed to ever do better than 339,000 viewers–a number it nabbed in its fifth week. The return of “Twin Peaks” drew critical acclaim and record sign ups for Showtime’s streaming service, but still averaged only 287,000 viewers per episode. Only Frankie Shaw’s semi-autobiographical half-hour series “SMILF” found ratings success, currently averaging 568,000 viewers as it nears the end of its first season.
TNT’s scripted look at the life of a young William Shakespeare was a massive swing and a miss for the cable network. Despite being filmed in Wales with a cast of mostly unknown actors, the show reportedly cost between $5-6 million an episode. The 10-episode first season opened to an anemic 0.16 rating and 633,000 viewers, and averaged just a 0.11 and 383,000 viewers per episode. TNT canceled the show in September just two days after the finale.
“American Horror Story” (FX)
“American Horror Story” went into its seventh season this year with considerable buzz, as series co-creator Ryan Murphy had teased that it would deal with the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Yet the season premiere was down by over 20 percent in both measures compared to Season 6. Granted, the season saw considerable lift in delayed viewing, but still finished down in the Live+Same Day ratings down approximately 30 percent in the demo and 24 percent in total viewers compared to the previous season.
Despite the critically-acclaimed series “Younger” scoring its highest-rated season this year, TV Land’s remaining originals slate failed to measure up. “Nobodies,” which boasts Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone among its executive producers and in guest roles, averaged just a 0.07 rating and 357,00 viewers per episode in its 12-episode first season. The network also canceled two of its other originals, “Lopez” and “Throwing Shade.” Add the fact that “Nobodies” and the upcoming projects “Heathers” and “American Woman” will be leaving TV Land and migrating to the fellow Viacom-owned channel The Paramount Network in 2018, and TV Land is left with only two originals: “Younger” and “Teachers.”