TV Premiere Week Rankings: NBC Stays on Top, CBS Grows and Both Can Thank the NFL

DVR projections can't mask losses — but at least everyone has something to brag about
AP Images; CBS
NFL football, 'The Big Bang Theory'

Judging the 2014-15 season looks to be more of a waiting game than ever, with networks making a hard sell of three- and seven-day DVR gains — most often quite justifiably.

But one race that doesn't really get the advantage of time spent marinating on the DVR is premiere week as a whole. Final numbers for live-plus-same-day showings for the week of Sept. 22 are in. And while scores will improve with time-shifting, rankings are likely fixed … as are the stats about who's up and who's down from the same week last year. So who's down? Just about everybody.

CBS is the lone grower among adults 18-49, thanks pretty much completely to its acquisition of Thursday Night Football. Not only has the weekly primetime NFL game given the network a sure win in primetime, its displacement of juggernaut The Big Bang Theory rejuvenated Monday and helped launch drama Scorpion. (That series, by the way, is looking quite good now that its second episode barely skipped a ratings beat with a much smaller lead-in.) 

The demo champ, for the third season running, was NBC. The network saw double-digit losses for The Voice but still managed easy wins on Monday and Tuesday. The singing competition is still a force to be reckoned with, and last year's freshman darling, The Blacklist, is back very much intact. It should also go without saying that Sunday isn't even up for grabs with Sunday Night Football (while down a touch) perennially the biggest thing across the dial.

Overall viewership is looking much more optimistic than advertisers' favored 18- to 49-year-olds. All but Fox are improved from the same week last year — say what you will about The X Factor, but it was dependable for a bigger audience — and CBS again outranks the rest of the Big Four. It's ahead of NBC by a handsome margin, 10.86 million to 10 million.

As for ABC and Fox, the alphabet net's third-place status is more secure than it was at the top of the 2013-14 season — and would be on top of the rankings in adults 18-49 were it not for its lack of sports. Down 4 percent from the comparable same-day showing in the key demo, the network definitely has perception on its side. In both live showings and early DVR lifts, How to Get Away With Murder and Black-ish are two of the biggest launches of the season. (Murder, in particular, is emerging as the early frontrunner best in class.)

Each of the networks has something to brag about — even fourth-place Fox. Though this fall is likely to be an uphill battle for the network, Gotham's solid premiere was followed by strong DVR growth and a reasonably steady performance in its second week out. But the network's first week back had a borderline anomaly on Sunday night with a football-boosted Simpsons and four-year highs for Family Guy. That's something not easily duplicated moving forward.

Time-shifting isn't the only reason the 2014 premiere week might not be the best gauge of success. Each of the Big Four is still holding several cards, with many new series debuts on deck this week and over the coming month. The CW doesn't start rolling out originals until Thursday.

But for now, here are premiere week averages and rankings — and where they stand compared to last year.

Adults 18-49 rating (live-plus-same-day)
1. NBC: 3.0 (down 3 percent)
2. CBS: 2.4 (up 9 percent)
3. ABC: 2.2 (down 4 percent)
4. Fox: 2.0 (down 9 percent)

Total Viewers (live-plus-same-day)
1. CBS 10.86 million (up 5 percent)
2. NBC 10.00 million (up 3 percent)
3. ABC: 8.26 million (up 3 percent)
4. Fox: 5.24 million (down 13 percent)

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