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TV Ratings: Premiere Week Winners and Losers

The 2019-2020 season premiere week doesn’t make for pretty viewing for the big four, as the numbers for almost all new and returning shows have been historically low, with a few notable exceptions.

While the networks are seeing more and more viewers switch to digital and delayed viewing, the benchmark for what constitutes a strong or even average linear debut is clearly changing. But even given the shifts in viewing habits, it has been a torrid start for the networks almost across the board.

Here are some winners and losers from 2019-2020 season premiere week.

Winner: Football

After a small resurgence last year, the NFL provided one of the only ratings touchdowns last week. A thrilling “Thursday Night Football” matchup between between the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles drew a whopping 17.7 million viewers on Fox, up 22% over last year’s inaugural cycle opener. While “Sunday Night Football” on NBC delivered a massive 24.7 million total viewers across both linear and digital platforms (the highest for a regular season game on the network in almost three years), despite featuring a low-scoring affair between the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints. The NFL’s strength clearly played no small part in the struggle of almost every scripted show this week.

Loser: All the new shows

Last week saw historically low live+same day ratings for new shows across the four major networks. Fox can claim that “Prodigal Son” is the highest-rated newcomer to date with a 1.0 rating in the 18-49 demo, and CBS can point to “All Rise” as the most watched new show with a touch over 6 million total viewers. But in reality, none of the new shows made any significant impact on premiere week. For comparison, almost every single new series that debuted during premiere week last year beat that 1.0, while shows like “Manifest” on NBC and “God Friended Me” and “FBI” on CBS all surpassed the 10 million viewer mark for their debuts.

Winner: “Fox”

Fox was the only network to grow among adults 18-49 versus its premiere week tally from a year ago. Led by the powerful combo of “The Masked Singer” season 2, which returned to a solid 2.5 rating and just under 8 million total viewers, and a juggernaut “Thursday Night Football,” the new face of Fox Entertainment recovered from its poorly rated Emmys telecast last weekend. But the win came even as neither of its new shows “Prodigal Son” and “Bless the Harts” wowed.

Loser: “Empire

Put it down to the Jussie Smollett saga or simply audience fatigue, but “Empire,” which used to be a cornerstone of Fox’s schedule, debuted its final season to a series low 1.0 demo rating and 3.4 million total viewers last week. The Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson vehicle went from averaging a 2.74 rating in season 3, to a 1.84 in season 4, to a 1.35 in season 5. Based on this debut, expect its final season average to dip well below a 1.0.

Winner: “Grey’s Anatomy”

Among the ratings carnage this week, an old faithful in “Grey’s Anatomy” once again delivered the goods for ABC. As new shows failed to impress and many returning series dropped like flies, “Grey’s” returned for its season 16 debut as the highest rated scripted show on Thursday night with a 1.5 rating among adults 18-49 and 6.5 million total viewers. While that figure is down 20% on last season’s premiere, it’s also up 13% on last season’s finale, and only a touch below the season 15 average.

Loser: Thursday-night comedy

The Thursday broadcast lineup may be stacked with an abundance of comedies, but the premiere week ratings for those series were far from a laughing matter. “Young Sheldon” struggled without its “Big Bang Theory” lead-in, sinking to a series low 1.0 rating and 8 million total viewers. Neither “The Unicorn” nor “Carol’s Second Act” caught fire with 0.8 and 0.7 ratings respectively for CBS. Meanwhile NBC’s comedy lineup wasn’t up to much either. “Superstore” returned to a 0.8 and “The Good Place” to a 0.7. However, it was the two comedy newbies which likely caused the Peacock to ruffle its feathers, as “Perfect Harmony” sounded out of tune with a 0.5 debut and 2.6 million viewers, and “Sunnyside” delivered the lowest series debut rating of the week with a 0.4 and 1.8 million total viewers.

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