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 now live top five. 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 Smash Crash (February 5)
NBC had plenty of moments it'd like to forget during its brutal winter without The Voice, but none got nearly as much attention as the day one meltdown of NBC's musical drama Smash. This was a show NBC head Robert Greenblatt had been developing for years and infamously called an "unqualifed success" after season one. It averaged around a 2.0 in the second half of its first season post-The Voice, but it returned for season two with a miserable 4.48 million viewers and 1.2 demo. NBC put up with another couple months of mostly sub-1.0 ratings before finally admitting defeat and playing out the last eight hours in Saturday burn-off mode.
A Super Bowl Blackout Pushes Back Elementary (February 3)
Long-time readers of these lists know I've been itching to get the Super Bowl off the list, since its huge ratings are never surprising or particularly game-changing. But it's back again, even without setting a new viewership record, because this one was unusually bizarre; there was a 34-minute delay early in the second half due to a power outage in the stadium. Though it didn't greatly damage the game ratings, it meant the biggest showcase timeslot of the year got pushed to its latest start time ever. Starting at 11:11, Elementary (7.8) had the worst-ever retention of the game rating, and there was absolutely no benefit for the drama's long-term ratings.
Whose Line Is It Anyway? Fuels the CW's Summer (July 16)
It was a very positive 2013 for the CW, which has used its growing library of genre dramas to shore up much of its crater-filled schedule. But the network's single splashiest moment this year came from a completely different realm. Their revival of improv comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway? produced a breakthrough 1.2 demo in a CW summer wasteland where 0.2s and 0.3s have been the norm. While it was a somewhat isolated event within 2013, this moment may carry a larger significance in the coming years, as it could inspire the CW to rejoin the scripted comedy game it abandoned several years ago.
The Walking Dead vs. The Bible vs. Game of Thrones (March 31)
A couple cable results to come on the second half of this list were far more noteworthy for individual shows. But March 31 was noteworthy as a great example of cable's depth, featuring a smackdown between three huge cable drama properties (all of which beat all four broadcasters in the 9:00 hour). The results were quite strong given all these shows were going head-to-head; the finale of The Walking Dead (6.4) and the premiere of Game of Thrones (2.3) each eked out new series highs, while History's final hour of miniseries The Bible (3.0) was just shy.
Agents of SHIELD Premieres Historically Well (September 24)
Though the power of Marvel Comics has been well-established at the box office, its highest-profile foray into TV was still particularly impressive out of the gate. The 4.7 demo rating made it the top drama premiere in raw 18-49 numbers since 2009, and from a Plus standpoint it was the most impressive self-starting series premiere in recent memory. By the late fall, it was only pulling about half of this number, which keeps this moment from ranking higher. But whatever happens with this show, drawing that kind of crowd for a premiere was still a rather remarkable achievement.