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
The Sound of Music Live! Sparks "Event" Programming (December 5)
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.
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.
Under the Dome Begins Its Season-Topping Run (June 24)
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.
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.
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.