Defining Shows/Overall Thoughts:
The 2013-14 season mostly saw a continuation of trends set in motion the previous season: CBS regressed but finished #1 again, NBC continued its rise from the ashes, Fox kept collapsing rapidly, and the CW got its act together. It was also notable for one of the strongest recent new drama classes; four (pictured above) qualified as hits under A18-49+, the most in nine years. It was the first class in four years to even produce more than one drama hit.
After gaining 16 points year-to-year with two cycles of The Voice in 2012-13, NBC picked up another 10 in its second year with that arrangement. These gains resulted in large part from the Winter Olympics replacing what would've been one of their lowest-rated parts of the season, but the network still had several other success stories. Monday's Voice lead-out The Blacklist (153) had the highest A18-49+ for a new drama in seven years (since Heroes), while Chicago PD (88) represented a successful expansion of the Chicago Fire franchise. Chicago Fire (108) itself took a sophomore bounce, and Law and Order: SVU (95) really defied the odds by growing in season fifteen. The dramas and The Voice managed to mask one of the biggest failures of the season on any network: the disastrous Thursday family comedies Sean Saves the World (54) and The Michael J. Fox Show (62).
CBS stayed on top in 2013-14, riding the biggest broadcast scripted season in a decade from The Big Bang Theory (269) and a huge final season for How I Met Your Mother (180). However, NCIS (149) took its first above-average drop and lost the top broadcast drama title, and new shows were underwhelming again. The network heavily invested in new comedy with four of them on the fall sked, but that produced only middling renewals The Millers (a The Big Bang Theory-boosted 140) and Mom (111), cancelled bubble show The Crazy Ones (108) and two-and-through We Are Men (101). The new dramas were an even bigger mess, as Hostages (63) and Intelligence (71) found no traction in a tough Monday 10/9c hour.
Fox had some positives in the fall, most notably the new drama Sleepy Hollow (138), but their season overall was one of the worst for a network in recent memory. It was a truly disastrous year for Fox's former beasts in young female demos like American Idol (142/137), The X Factor (94/89 and cancelled), New Girl (89) and Glee (64). And even after an NFC Championship preview, The Following (93) experienced a huge sophomore slump.
If any network flipped the 2012-13 script, it was probably ABC, whose relative rating grew year-to-year for the first time in five seasons. Though Agents of SHIELD (127) and Resurrection (133) had decent runs, the growth was largely built on returnees. Another big season of growth for Scandal (162) saw it claim top broadcast drama honors for the first time, and ABC's split-season treatment for serials also helped Grey's Anatomy (143) and Once Upon a Time (116) hold up better in the second half of the season. In the unscripted realm, Dancing with the Stars (115/124) had a notably positive season both in fall and spring, while Shark Tank (103) became the biggest Friday show in the A18-49+ era.
Big Hits: The Blacklist (153)
Hits: The Millers (140), Sleepy Hollow (138), Resurrection (133), Agents of SHIELD (127)
Solid: Mom (111), The Crazy Ones (111), We Are Men (101), Almost Human (100), About a Boy (100)
Sub-solid renewals: The Goldbergs (89), Chicago PD (88), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (80)
Renews by network: ABC 3, CBS 2, NBC 3, Fox 2
After a shockingly light 2012-13 season in terms of new show volume, the total count swung way back up in 2013-14. 41 new shows inched past 2011-12's 40 for most new shows in the A18-49+ era. This helped produce some of the largest numbers we've seen in the various A18-49+ categories. 18 flops was the highest number since 2006-07, 10 solids tied the most in the A18-49+ era (with 2011-12), while it was the first five-hit season since there were six in that miracle 2004-05 year. The Blacklist was the first big hit since 2 Broke Girls two years ago, and the first drama big hit since Heroes seven years ago.
These stats are so ridiculous in large part because of the higher volume of new shows, but even the rate stats are pretty favorable. 44% flops is less than the 11-year average of 47%. 24% solids is well above the 17% average (and behind only 2004-05 (26%) and 2011-12 (25%)). Even if you throw out the three shows that barely hit the league average (including two-and-through We Are Men) the number drops to 17%, which is still average. And 12% hits ties 2009-10 for second-best behind 2004-05 (19%), well ahead of the 8% average.
But the real weirdness of the class of 2013-14 is this: even with what seemed like a relatively strong slate ratings-wise, the renewal axe was wielded quite liberally. The big four brought back just ten new shows out of the 41. Even with the most new shows of the era, this was behind the average number of renewals per season (10.5), and the lowest renewal rate of the last eleven years (24%). Almost everything that seemed like it should've been on the bubble or leaning renewal (specifically Friends with Better Lives, Almost Human and Growing Up Fisher) got canned. The only show with truly bubbly ratings to sneak through was Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And at an 80 A18-49+, it was the strongest "lowest-rated weeknight renewal" in the 11 seasons to date.
We don't know yet how this class will do on a long-term basis, but some of the top-rated shows like Sleepy Hollow and Resurrection feel pretty fragile moving forward. Maybe this will be a year like 2005-06, in which some of the unassuming season one performers like How I Met Your Mother, Bones and Criminal Minds end up being the bigger long-term players. I could see that happening with the likes of The Goldbergs and Chicago PD.
This year represented a very tight four-way convergence. The difference between first and fourth this year (12 points) was much smaller than the difference between first and second during Fox's prime. CBS at 106 is one of the weakest first-place networks in the last eleven years, while Fox at 94 is one of the strongest fourth-place networks. Whether you think ABC or Fox is the "real" fourth-place network, there's really no comparison with NBC's huge mess in the immediate pre-Voice years (at least not yet).
Why is Kevin Reilly gone? Fox dropped 20%+ in raw A18-49 entertainment average for a second straight season, which translates to a double-digit drop in the relative numbers above. No other big four network has dropped 20% in a season in the whole A18-49+ era. (The CW did it a couple times, but one of those was the writers' strike season.) Fox was so strong in their prime that drops were bound to happen eventually, but this has been a particularly ugly transition period. And considering how badly they ended the season, there may be even more to come.
And the CW was actually up in raw A18-49 entertainment average, just the third time a network has pulled that off in the last five years. (Joining CBS 2011-12 and NBC 2012-13.) The network's had a very nice couple of years as they've tried to broaden their audience, but they've still only recovered about half the 18-49 damage done in the previous two years when America's Next Top Model fell apart.
Days of the Week:
For a third straight season, Monday nights kept getting more crowded. NBC's The Blacklist was a very strong player in the 10/9c hour, ABC's Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor had positive seasons, and even Fox had a breakthrough in the fall with Sleepy Hollow. The other weeknight on the upswing was Tuesday. Though Fox's comedies imploded, that decline was more than cancelled out by the rise of NBC (most importantly Chicago Fire's strength at 10/9c). Throw in ABC getting on the map with Agents of SHIELD and The Goldbergs and CBS patching up 10/9c with Person of Interest, and it was a positive season for a night that has struggled pretty much since Idol left.
The other three nights were all on the downswing. The biggest story on Wednesday/Thursday was the Fox meltdown with The X Factor, American Idol and Glee. Sunday became the weakest night in the A18-49+ era, largely because CBS remains so content with bad performers in the last two hours, plus their one solid player The Amazing Race had a particularly weak couple of seasons. ABC's drama lineup struggled, especially in the fall, while NBC's Believe and Crisis couldn't approach Celebrity Apprentice levels in the spring. It may get even worse next season, with CBS moving its best Sunday player and Fox killing two-hour animation.
Time of Day:
As I've mentioned a couple other times, 2013-14 was a bit of a comeback year for several areas that had been on the downturn in recent years, like the CW and Friday nights. The 10:00 hour was another example, as it grew to its biggest average ratings in five years in each half-hour. Why? It's been an hour lacking in major success stories in recent years, but three of broadcast's biggest 2013-14 successes came in the hour: top drama Scandal, top newbie The Blacklist, and sophomore bouncer Chicago Fire.
Another interesting note is that the 8:00 hour actually outrated 8:30, something that's never really been the case in the past. Usually, the major jump in viewing levels makes the difference. A big part of this trend comes from weaker retention by half-hour series; the shows airing after 8:00 occupants like The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother were weaker than usual this season. Perhaps the typical one-hour or two-hour series is not jumping as much at 8:30 as in the past, but I haven't done enough number-crunching to make a call on that. More on that another day!
Repeats & Sports/Specials:
2013-14 was a milestone year for television; for the first time, the average for original series get surpassed by the average for "everything else." In the repeats/sports/specials post last year, I said this was a strong possibility because of all the extra high-rated non-series real estate dedicated to the Winter Olympics. But the overall number surged well past 100 because the sports side of the equation got a major assist from the special side; most awards shows hit their highest or second-highest A18-49+ levels in the era, and many were highest by wide margins. Meanwhile, repeat programming continued its gradual decline; the average repeat is now decidedly below half of the average original.
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