2014-15 will probably go down in TV history as the Year of Diversity, a season featuring many significant newbie successes with minority leads and creators. That statement would've rung true even at the end of the fall, when ABC filled out a three-hour night of Shonda Rhimes drama with Viola Davis' How to Get Away with Murder (176), one of the biggest new dramas of the last decade. And its new comedy Black-ish (136) was the strongest show yet to lead out of Modern Family on Wednesday.
But the best, by far, was yet to come: Fox's absolutely monster hip hop drama Empire (303). It was a breakout on arrival, with a massive 3.8 demo rating on its early January premiere night, but it also defied the post-premiere odds and grew nearly every week, as high as a 6.1/6.9 for the two-hour finale in March. It was the biggest new series in 14 years of A18-49+ records, higher-rated by 2015 standards than even Desperate Housewives was in its day, and it was also the biggest broadcast drama and tied as the biggest broadcast scripted series of this generation.
CBS took a comedy hit with the loss of How I Met Your Mother and a rare Plus decline from The Big Bang Theory (257), the lowlight being sophomore The Millers getting yanked after just five episodes. But it got its drama development act together with the highly successful Scorpion (137) and serviceable NCIS lead-out NCIS: New Orleans (124).
NBC was again within reach of the season title, riding a barely-declining The Voice (199/183 on Monday) and a healthy stable of Dick Wolf dramas. But they were derailed by one of the worst new classes in recent memory, with only pity renewal The Mysteries of Laura (72) surviving to season two.
Fox had the smash of the year, and a few other successes with Batman prequel Gotham (129), adding live-action shows to Sunday with Brooklyn Nine-Nine (101) and The Last Man on Earth (97), and a solid weeknight move for MasterChef Junior (99/100). But it had major problems elsewhere and thus wasn't a contender for the title. Expensive reality gamble Utopia (74 Tue/37 Fri) was pulled from Tuesday just two weeks into the regular season. Fall scripted newbies Red Band Society (51), Gracepoint (50) and Mulaney (43) were off the radar, too. And the former giga-hit reality tentpole American Idol (122/134) couldn't stop the bleeding, leading the network to announce 2016 as the final season.
Big Hits: Empire (303), How to Get Away with Murder (176)
Hits: Scorpion (137), Black-ish (136), The Odd Couple (132), Gotham (129)
Solid: NCIS: New Orleans (124), Fresh Off the Boat (102)
Sub-solid renewals: The Last Man on Earth (97), Agent Carter (89), Secrets and Lies (89), Madam Secretary (85), CSI: Cyber (82), Galavant (79), The Mysteries of Laura (74), American Crime (69)
At the top, the new class of 2014-15 was undeniably one of the best for broadcast TV in a decade. Empire was the biggest newbie of the era (rather easily surpassing Desperate Housewives), and it combined with ABC's hugely successful Scandal lead-out How to Get Away with Murder to produce the first multiple big hit class since ABC's Desperate/Lost/Grey's Anatomy trifecta ten years prior. There were six total hits, tying 2004-05's record for the era, and NCIS: New Orleans was just a point away from becoming the seventh hit. And this big four focus ignores the fact that the CW also developed The Flash (86), by far the biggest series in network history.
It was also pretty top-heavy; there's a big drop-off from NCIS: NO down to the frontloaded league-averageish ratings from Fresh Off the Boat and The Last Man on Earth, and nothing else was all that close to average. The number of solid shows was actually down year-to-year.
However, the renew percentages this year were still among the highest in the era as the networks showed a great amount of patience with marginal newbies. A year after one of the least patient seasons in memory, this time the big four tied the era record by renewing eight sub-solid shows. ABC became the first network in the A18-49+ era to renew seven scripted newbies. Granted, four of these were for bridge/low priority timeslots, but it still counts!
There were two huge winners on an A18-49+ basis this season. The first one is ABC, which won the season in originals for the first time in the 14-year era. It was ABC's best relative original average since the peak Grey's Anatomy season in 2006-07 and second-best of the whole era. This was a particularly impressive show of consistent strength since the network didn't have a single megahit, didn't really have any sports inflation, and aired one of the heaviest volumes of original programming in history.
Still, it should be noted that this win came in one of the most tightly-packed seasons ever, even moreso than the already tight 2013-14 season. ABC's 103 was the smallest relative rating for a #1 network in the era, finishing comfortably behind CBS 2013-14 and CBS 2004-05 (each at 106). Fox's 94 made it the second-strongest #4 network in the era, behind only 2004-05 ABC (96).
The other huge winner was the CW, which rode massive newbie The Flash to its best relative rating since the 41 in the opening year of its existence. It's definitely questionable whether this is actually the network's strongest season; the network had the same original percentage when it averaged 41 in 2006-07, and that was while it was still programming three hours on the very problematic Sunday. But I think the real takeaway here is not 2014-15 vs. 2006-07, but 2014-15 vs. 2011-12 and 2012-13. The fact that it has gone from 29 and 30 in those two years all the way up to 41 on a young-skewing network with basically the same original volume is pretty striking.
Days of the Week
The big winner year-to-year was Wednesday. The flashiest Wednesday story was of course Fox's Empire. But every network had at least something good to report. ABC had a greatly improved comedy lineup, CBS saw Survivor hold up very well (though lost ground by replacing CSI at 10/9c), and NBC's procedurals Law and Order: SVU and Chicago PD were both up year-to-year in Plus.
All other nights were even or slightly down, which meant Monday remained the week's most crowded night. Entertainment series programming on Sunday continued to flounder, especially after the NFL overrun lead-ins were gone.
Time of Day
After a surprising volume of 10:00 success briefly brought the hour's ratings up in 2013-14, the ratings fell back again in 2014-15. This one was interesting to watch throughout the year, as it was at least even in the early part of the year when The Blacklist and How to Get Away with Murder were lighting up. But those shows departed the hour well before the end of the season, and the replacements were nowhere close ratings-wise.
The lost ratings juice in the 10:00 hour went into the 8:00 hour. It was the highest relative ratings for this hour in the whole era. 8:30 had a particular spike as shows like The Goldbergs, Mom, Mike and Molly and even Brooklyn Nine-Nine had better 8:30 retention than some previous occupants.
Repeats & Sports/Specials
All the categories were even or up compared to the rate of original decline, but overall ratings still dropped a tick more than the originals league average. This is because the two strongest categories (sports and specials) were also down in real estate.
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