Monday, December 30, 2019

The Top 10 TV Ratings Moments of 2019

It's time for my tenth annual look back 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. Please let me know about my most egregious rankings and omissions.

Check back soon for a few additional thoughts about the biggest moments of the entire decade. Happy New Year!

Here are the previous years:
2010: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1
2011: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1
2012: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1
2013: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1
2014: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1

10. Batwoman is Fall's Most Impressive Scripted Premiere (October 6)
I just couldn't bring myself to have a whole top 10 list without a single scripted premiere from the fall, even if this class certainly deserved it. There's not much question that the strongest debut of the fall was on the CW, where Batwoman managed to scrounge up a 0.5, making it one of the top five premieres of the decade in Plus for the netlet. It may not seem like much, but on a network that has mostly devolved into a morass of 0.2ish ratings, and where the superhero brand is declining in general, it was a rare win for broadcast this fall.

9. A Record-Setting Chicago Crossover (October 16)
The CW's Crisis on Infinite Earths may have gotten more media hype, but the most impressive crossover event of the fall ratings-wise came from NBC's Chicago trio. Fire, Med and PD, all in season five or later, set new series highs in Plus across the board on this night. And the ascension of the "One Chicago" Wednesday lineup has continued well beyond this one set of ratings; in a brutal fall for entertainment ratings in general, they all managed to keep their year-to-year declines in the single digits.

8. SmackDown! Has a Huge Return to Broadcast Fridays (October 4)
2019 was the second straight fall that Fox saw a big Friday night breakout performance from a property that was switching networks. The SmackDown! premiere (1.4) was more than double what it had been doing on USA Network. About half of the premiere demo was gone by the end of the fall, and it's not clear where Fox's expectations were, but the network is still getting a league average-ish couple hours every Friday night. It'll probably finish a little behind last year's Last Man Standing premiere (1.8) in Plus, but it's still one of the most impressive showings for a Friday series in recent memory.

7. Super Bowl Lead-out The World's Best Bottoms Out (February 27)
We'll be visiting the highlights of broadcast TV's unscripted-fueled winter later in the list, but first let's check in with the highest-profile lowlight in that trend, and one of the biggest lowlights in recent memory. The World's Best began its February run with a 7.0 after the Super Bowl, but the first four weeks on its regular night were a collapse of truly epic proportions: 1.0 -> 0.9 -> 0.6 -> 0.4. From premiering after the Super Bowl to megabomb, all in the same month.

6. BH90210 Heats Up the Summer (August 7)
For sheer surprise factor, premiere night for the revival(-ish?) of the '90s teen drama could probably top several of the moments in the top five. A 1.5 demo in the dog days of August made it one of the most impressive summer launches on record, about on par with where Under the Dome began Plus-wise in 2013. This show's nostalgia appealed to a uniquely thin slice of the age spectrum, going big in the full 18-49 demo but a virtual non-starter with everyone below 35. It slid down this list because that initial audience faded quickly; more than half of its was gone by week four, and after ending on three straight 0.7's it was cancelled after one season.

5. The Big Bang Theory Says Goodbye (May 16)
With the end of the decade came the end of the biggest TV comedy of the decade. It may not have gone out at the peak of its powers like Game of Thrones; in fact, most of its final season was a bit underwhelming by its standards ratings-wise. But with a 3.2 on finale night, The Big Bang Theory was up by over 60% week-to-week, and it was still able to claw its way back to a series second-best in Plus, and one of the top 15 comedy episodes of the Plus era. TBBT left behind a severely-diminished comedy landscape on broadcast TV; this show's eight straight megahit seasons already seem like a distant memory, impossible to achieve today.

4. America's Got Talent: The Champions and The Bachelor Clash (January 7)
Broadcast TV was at its healthiest in the winter months of 2019, led by huge performances by a slew of reality series. One of these (see #1 on this list) was even flashier, but there was quite a bit of timeslot improvement in a Monday night duel between a series-high season of The Bachelor and a winter of The Voice-esque ratings from America's Got Talent's first foray into the regular season with AGT: The Champions. This night was a win for Talent (1.8 to 1.5), but the last laugh went to The Bachelor; it was winning head-to-head by the time Champions went off the air, and then The Bachelorette held up far better in the summer than the AGT mothership.

3. The Little Mermaid Live! Makes a Major Splash (November 5)
2019 was a big year for Disney at the movies and also saw the launch of the Disney+ streaming service, but The Power of Disney got a major showcase on the broadcast TV stage as well. The Little Mermaid Live! (2.6) was the biggest broadcast live musical production in almost four years (since Grease Live! in early 2016), and it even topped Grease and The Sound of Music Live! on a historical-adjusted basis. It was a top-20 non-sports episode of the season in the demo. The only things to eclipse it were awards shows, football lead-outs, the TBBT finale and the two shows ahead of it on this list.

2. Game of Thrones Ends On One Last Series High (May 19)
After nearly 20 months off, cultural phenomenon Game of Thrones came back for its last six episodes and went out on another extraordinary high note. Though it was up in raw numbers throughout the final season, it didn't touch the raw series high until this finale (5.78), which came in 0.08 points above the penultimate season finale. This episode wasn't able to surpass The Walking Dead's fall 2016 premiere for biggest episode in the Plus era, but the short final season of Thrones was a much more consistent beast; five of these six episodes would slide in at #2 through #6 on the list of Plus-era drama episodes.

1. The Masked Singer Opens a Big 2019 for Fox (January 2)
Though there were 363 more days in 2019 after the premiere of The Masked Singer, nothing that followed would top the impact of this moment, as Fox unmasked the biggest unscripted newbie in well over a decade and rode it to a huge winter run. This is one of just a handful of series in the Plus era to break 300 on its series premiere night (3.0), and all the others rode far more gigantic lead-ins than the 1.2 that The Masked Singer had. Even better for Fox, The Masked Singer had much more staying power than the last unscripted newbie of this size (Joe Millionaire). Singer followed up with another megahit season in the fall, keying Fox's return to dominance of broadcast TV for the first time since the American Idol heyday.

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