CBS Wins a TV Season Bankrupt of New Broadcast Hits

NBC's 'Blindspot' might be a breakout — but it's a far cry from last year's top launches ('Empire,' 'How to Get Away With Murder,' 'Thursday Night Football').
Courtesy of Phillippe Bosse/ABC, Virginia Sherwood/NBC, Ed Araquel/FOX, Neil Jacobs/CBS
From left: 'Quantico,' 'Blindspot,' 'X-Files,' 'Life in Pieces'

As Leslie Moonves tried to make very clear during upfront week, CBS is No. 1.

The Eye network wrapped the 2015-16 broadcast season as the highest-rated and (for the umpteenth time) most-watched network on television. “Yes, the Super Bowl helped," the CBS Corp. president and CEO said on May 18. "But let me tell you a fact: Without the Super Bowl, we still win. ... Different people brag about statistics that they just made up last week."

With just a handful of hours left on the traditional broadcast calendar, most-current averages for the season — that's the latest combination of Nielsen Media's live-plus-seven, live-plus-three and live-plus-same-day ratings — give CBS a nice advantage over No. 2 NBC among adults 18-49 and a wide, wide margin of victory in the total viewers race. Perennial asterisk that the Super Bowl might be for the host network, it should be noted that CBS would have tied NBC in the key demo without it. But, ignoring football completely, its lead would be uncontested.

What's depressingly clear about the season is the downward trajectory for nearly all of the broadcast networks and startling lack of breakouts. As the recent cancellation bloodbath illustrated, the recent freshman class was not up to snuff. And the absence of bonafide hits was felt across the board. Lone bright spot Blindspot exemplifies just how mediocre this year's new scripted offerings proved to be. One year ago, Fox's Empire, ABC's How to Get Away With Murder and the off-cable launch of Thursday Night Football all wrapped the season averaging north of a 5.0 rating in the key demo. NBC's Blindspot closes out its freshman year as the top newcomer, by far, with a comparatively ho-hum 3.2 rating with adults 18-49. (With a 2.7 rating in the key demo, CBS' comedy Life in Pieces ranks a surprising No. 2 among new entries.)

One success that might get lost in the eulogy for the 2015-16 season is The X-Files. Only six episodes, the revival's short-order status justifiably keeps it from being categorized as a new series, but it was a hit for Fox. The drama's final live-plus-seven-day score was a 4.8 rating among adults 18-49.

With the Super Bowl and Life in Pieces, CBS also gets the bragging rights of being the only Big Four network to not slip in the key demo from last season. ABC, Fox and NBC are all down — ABC losing the most steam, as the recent executive shuffle and slew of veteran series death sentences made quite clear. The Alphabet network dropped to No. 4, just behind Fox, by sliding a painful 18 percent among adults 18-49. NBC was down the second-most, 12 percent, after having the Super Bowl last season, while Fox managed to stabilize from its own recent free fall to drop just 5 percent.

The CW managed to stay the course, driven by its stable roster of DC Comics dramas. The network joins CBS in being the only one to hold last year's averages in the key demo — though its total viewership, like all but Fox's, was off.

"There's not a ton of separation between the networks anymore," said Horizon Media senior vp and director of national broadcast David Campanelli, noting the mere half-point difference between first-place CBS and No. 4 ABC. "There's less importance on who's one, two, three and four when the gap between them is not hugely spread. It's harder to see who has the good story." 

Below are the final 2015-16 season-to-date broadcast rankings — and the change from 2014-15 season.

Adults 18-49
1. CBS  — 2.3 rating (no change)
2. NBC — 2.2 rating (down 12 percent)
3. FOX — 1.9 rating (down 5 percent)
4. ABC — 1.8 rating (down 18 percent)
5. CW — 0.8 rating (no change)
Total viewers
1. CBS — 10.9 million (down 3 percent)
2. NBC —  8.1 million (down 6 percent)
3. ABC —  6.8 million (down 14 percent)
4. FOX —  5.8 million (up 1 percent)
5. CW — 1.99 million (down 7 percent)