With more than 500 original scripted television series expected this season, it’s more difficult than ever for a new show to rise above the din and make its mark, ratings-wise. And no week is more competitive than the first week of the Nielsen season, which began Sept. 25.
But after a 2016-17 that saw broadcasters struggle more than ever to gain traction for their newest offerings, this season is off to an auspicious start. The question is whether new shows hot out of the gate can sustain and build in the way that recent freshman standouts such as “This Is Us” and “Empire” managed to. But one week into the season, prospects look good.
“I would say that broadcast is off to a very strong start, and we’re definitely heartened by some of the numbers that we’re seeing,” says Katz Media Group’s Stacey Schulman.
In premiere week, the three new shows that stood out most were NBC’s “Will & Grace” revival, CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” spinoff “Young Sheldon,” and ABC’s medical drama “The Good Doctor.”
With a 2.2 live-plus-same day rating in the 18-49 demographic in its 10 p.m premiere Monday, “The Good Doctor” was the biggest surprise of premiere week — building on its lead in, up 57% from “Dancing With the Stars.”
Hailing from “House” creator David Shore, “The Good Doctor” boasts a solid pedigree, but not the same brand recognition that some other freshman series have. Nevertheless, it handily won its timeslot over CBS’ “Scorpion” and fellow freshman “The Brave” at NBC.
The 2.2 puts “The Good Doctor” behind last year’s highest rated premiere-week freshman drama debut, NBC’s “This Is Us.” But while “This Is Us” developed into one of broadcast’s most potent hours of programming, in its first week it opened down 15% from its lead in, “The Voice.” “The Good Doctor” — facing not just broadcast competition, but also the Dallas Cowboys on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” — had to be a self-starter.
“Usually you’re in some middle zone where they can dance around and come up with some reason why the numbers weren’t bad,” Shore says. But after “The Good Doctor” premiere, “I was getting phone calls of unadulterated happiness from my studio and my network.” On Monday, “The Good Doctor” grew, delivering a 2.4 for its second episode.
“Young Sheldon” trailed its lead-in, but barely. For years, CBS has tried to launch a new sitcom by premiering it after “The Big Bang Theory,” television’s most watched scripted show. The results have often been mediocre. But “Young Sheldon,” an ambitious single-camera series that tells the early-childhood story of the character Jim Parsons plays in the Chuck Lorre-produced multi-cam comedy, broke the cycle. The spinoff drew 17.21 million total viewers — the primary metric against which CBS sells advertising — retaining 98% of its “Big Bang Theory” lead-in.
“It certainly was beyond where we reasonably thought it would be, just given all the shows that have come behind ‘Big Bang’ in the past,” says CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl. “I do believe it suggests something that we thought, which is that ‘Young Sheldon’ is a show that can appeal to viewers beyond ‘Big Bang.’”
Another indicator of the draw of “Young Sheldon”: It was no slouch in the 18-49 demo, where its 3.8 rating made it the top new show of premiere week. It managed to best “Will & Grace,” which, in a Thursday 9 p.m. debut, more than doubled its lead-in, at 3.0.
After a tough 2016 premiere week, one that was interrupted by a presidential debate and in which new shows struggled for attention against the end-run of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, high premiere ratings for new broadcast series are welcome across the board.
“I think the fact that we’re seeing viewers show up for new shows — and not just ours — is really encouraging” Kahl says. “‘The Good Doctor,’ the comeback for ‘Will & Grace’; if we put shows on that can pique viewers’ interest, it’s pretty apparent to me they’ll still show up.”