NBC is having a strong season with the Rio Olympics and pre-season football, while Fox is experiencing a 20 percent freefall in ratings.
With another summer coming to a close, there are no shortage of TV standouts — and misfires.
Among those able to successfully cut through the summertime clutter: OWN's first foray into prestige drama, Greenleaf, which counts Oprah among its stars; and a pair of retro game shows — The $100,000 Pyramid and Match Game — that are doing far more than keeping the lights on at ABC.
But with the good comes the bad, or, at least, the highly disappointing. Lifetime can't be thrilled with the latest round of reviews for its 2015 critical breakout Unreal, just as executives at CBS and Fox are surely scratching their heads over the meager ratings for Braindead and Wayward Pines, respectively.
Below is a breakdown of the winners and losers of summer 2016.
As other nets spent aggressively on scripted fare, ABC rolled out a Sunday lineup of retro game shows with $100,000 Pyramid and Match Game joining Celebrity Family Feud. The concepts were neither original nor novel, but the network scored demo wins before the Olympics. (ABC already has renewed all three.) Fox’s Dana Walden credits the "mix of nostalgia" and the "easy viewing" of the game show genre, while CBS’ Glenn Geller says he’s already developing in the space for next year. Also delivering: NBC’s America’s Got Talent, which is scoring its best ratings in five years, along with mainstays Big Brother (CBS) and The Bachelorette (ABC).
For all the talk of fractured viewing and a handful of high-profile misses (sorry, Roadies), AMC managed to break through with comic adaptation Preacher, which averaged 3.3 million total viewers in first-run viewing. Elsewhere, OWN is scoring with its first prestige play Greenleaf, which drew 3 million, while Starz’ decision to move Power to Sunday has it delivering 2.9 million. HBO can gloat about the ratings for Ballers (2.4 million) and the reviews for The Night Of (a 90 on Metacritic). And though its viewership is a tightly-kept secret, few series have generated more chatter than Netflix’s Stranger Things. Says CBS TV Studios David Stapf, "What Stranger Things shows is that there’s hope for all developers."
Chairman Bob Greenblatt wasted little time at the recent television critics tour touting his network’s "especially strong" summer — and why not when you’re up 11 percent in the ratings (even without sports or news) while each of your competitors is flat or down. Similarly impressive: with its Rio Olympics lift (though smaller than usual) and pre-season football, NBC is poised to win 12 straight weeks of summer, bragging rights the company hasn’t enjoyed in 19 years.
CBS’ Geller is the first to acknowledge BrainDead (pulling a dismal 0.4 demo rating even with three days of viewing) and American Gothic (0.7) haven’t delivered what he anticipated, much less the types of figures Under the Dome once generated for the network. NBC can’t be pleased with Aquarius, off 37 percent, and Fox’s David Madden is still trying to figure out what went wrong with Wayward Pines, down nearly 50 percent. "It took more of a hit than I hoped," says Madden, adding: "Some of that was not having Matt Dillon, and some of that was season one was so built around a big mystery and we had revealed the mystery." Still, all four networks say they’re committed to keeping scripted on in the summer.
When it comes to traditional viewing and critical hullaballoo, a handful of last summer’s biggest breakouts have stumbled. Lifetime’s Peabody-winning UnREAL is off five percent on an already narrow base, and, perhaps worse, has been savaged by critics. Meanwhile, USA’s Mr. Robot, despite its six Emmy noms and continued buzz, has seen its ratings drop more than 20 percent. The latter doesn’t bother NBCU boss Bonnie Hammer, who suggests the show’s aggregated viewership is "pretty damn huge." Plus, she says of the cache and advertiser benefits: "You can't buy what the halo has done for USA."
CBS’ 10 percent drop doesn’t look so bad when you turn your attention to Fox’s 20 percent freefall. Fault a cadre of under-performing reality shows, led by Mark Burnett-produced newbie Coupled, and a lack of scripted offerings. Walden suggests it was particularly hard to compete with both the Olympics and the election, which she jokes has "turned into such a hot mess and that is the greatest reality show on TV right now." Looking ahead, her partner Gary Newman says the network will do a better job finding shows that "are eventful that you can easily market."