Friday, December 27, 2013

The Top 10 TV Ratings Moments of 2013, 5 to 1

It's time for my fourth annual look at the year's top 10 moments in TV ratings! As always, the criteria are pretty subjective, but I go for a blend of 1) relatively isolated incidents that are impressive for their sheer enormity/cultural impact and 2) moments that exemplify much larger trends in TV this year. The headlines link back to my writings on these moments at the time they happened. Enjoy, please let me know about my most egregious rankings/omissions, and check out the first post from yesterday. Happy New Year!

Here are the three previous years:
2010: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1
2011: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1
2012: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1

5. The Sound of Music Live! Sparks "Event" Programming (December 5)
It's nice to have a programming strategy, but it's all just words until something produces results. NBC's bold three-hour live production of The Sound of Music was a big win for the network's "event" initiative, finding 18.62 million viewers and a 4.6 demo rating (or about four times the rating of NBC's regular Thursday lineup). Will future short-form "events" so perfectly combine big pop culture names like Carrie Underwood and The Sound of Music to hit all the quadrants? Maybe not. But this result certainly ensured that there will be many more attempts.

4. Scandal Trends Up, Idol Down on "Finale Night in America" (May 16)
You didn't have to look at a single rating to see this night as a great symbol of where American Idol finds itself. Competing broadcasters once feared the ratings hit they'd take against the Death Star and would sit out the season's final Idol day. This year, every single broadcaster threw its big Thursday guns right at the embattled Idol's finale. Of course, Idol's rating itself (a 3.6, down 44% year-to-year!) was also pretty telling about where the show is at. Other Finale Night takeaways: Scandal tied its series high 3.2 amid the madness, setting up a big fall that has seen it in a tight three-way race for top b'cast drama; a sizable crowd that had bailed on the post-Carell years returned for The Office's finale (3.0); and against all these huge events, The Big Bang Theory (4.8) quietly routed everything, as usual.

3. Under the Dome Begins Its Season-Topping Run (June 24)
The networks have talked about "year-round programming" for a few years, but the reality was usually, at best, a cheap and/or half-assed approach. Under the Dome's first season may be the result that finally changes the summer game on broadcast, proving that going big in the low-viewed months can work. It premiered to a huge 13.53 million viewers and 3.3 demo. While it ultimately settled about 25% lower, the end result was still striking: UtD outrated every single member of the (admittedly weak) scripted newbie class from the 2012-13 regular season. It seems fairly certain the volume of original broadcast content will be on the rise in summer 2014.

2. Breaking Bad Steals Broadcast Premieres' Spotlight (September 29)
There may never be a better example than the finale of Breaking Bad of how streaming and binge-viewing can make a mark on Nielsen ratings. This show didn't even hit its first 1.0 rating in 18-49 till the season four premiere, but it became a social media phenomenon and grew like wildfire in the Nielsens across its last three summers. Four different episodes in the summer 2013 run hit a new series high, and some episodes during AMC's full-series marathon actually did better numbers than in their first runs! It culminated with this enormous 5.3 finale rating, over 50% ahead of any previous BB episode and towering over all of the Sunday scripted premieres on broadcast.

1. The Walking Dead Eights Up the Competition (October 13)
Is three measly rating points enough for The Walking Dead's latest high point to topple the storyline-rich BB number? In a word: yes. The Walking Dead's staggering 8.2 rating took it to the precipice of its last ceiling to shatter, Sunday Night Football. (It would beat a couple weaker games later in the season.) It was the biggest raw number for a regularly-skedded drama since 2008, an eternity in same day ratings. Making a historical adjustment, just two scripted eps in the last decade-plus can top it (Friends finale and Ashton's Two and a Half Men debut). And all this came on a network on the fringes of the basic cable top 25 when not airing TWD.


Spot said...

It's ridiculous how badly FOX needs Bones basically everywhere.

Spot said...

Remarkable how well The Vampire Diaries continues to hold. Reign is totally beating my expectations but it doesn't bode too well that the best it could hope for at season's end is to match The Secret Circle.

Spot said...

Great list, I definitely agree with number 1 being there, but I think I would put Under the Dome as first because it has both the individual impact to make us WOW and to clearly change summer programming all around broadcasts. I would rate Breaking Bad finale much lower because I don't see any impact from it. Instead, I would have included the collapse of broadcast Sundays, especially ABC's. Also, I think TBBT's monstrous January run from last year (and everything it's been doing ever since) is missing. I don't like the sound of music so high either because I am not sure of the impact it will have but I can live with it.

Spot said...

A good read, thanks!

In my view, the only big omissions are The Big Bang Theories' series high on 10 January (6.4 in 18-49 and 20.0m viewers) and X Factor's collapse (premiere down a full third).

A few more memorable bits of ratings trivia: Hell on Wheels' ratings increase on Saturday(!), Low Winter Sun bombing, The Blacklist looking like NBC's first legit above-average scripted hit since (I believe) Heroes, NBC comedy bombing (whether Goon or The Michael J. Fox Show) and Golden Globes up a quarter year-on-year. Busy year for AMC and NBC!

Spot said...

Fantastic list, I think what's included in the top 5 is spot on! BB would've been on top for me as what the finale managed really made me go "WOW" - although TWD pulled an even bigger number and I would never have expected it to crack a 8.0, it didn't quite leave me with the same feeling.

Sound of Music would probably have rounded out my top 3. Doing well in total viewers was to be expected and to beat the usual lineup but to come close to TBBT in the common half hour - thank god there wasn't a question for it as I was nowhere near calling THAT number.

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