TV Long View: Fall 2019 Thursday Network Ratings Forecast

With 'The Big Bang Theory' gone, the night is more wide open than it has been in recent years.
Courtesy of CBS, ABC and NBC
From left: 'Young Sheldon,' 'Grey's Anatomy,' 'Sunnyside'

With the 2019-20 TV season looming, The Hollywood Reporter is handicapping the broadcast networks' chances for success on each night of the week. Which new series are best set up to succeed? Which veterans are fading, and which ones are holding fast? Can anything on a traditional network break out?

Thursday nights bring some sizable changes to CBS, which said goodbye to its flagship comedy The Big Bang Theory last season, along with a couple of new half-hours on NBC. Fox's Thursday Night Football will most likely lock down the biggest ratings in the fall, but otherwise the night is more wide open than it has been in some time.

New Shows, New Time Slots

The new CBS series are the comedies The Unicorn, starring Walton Goggins, airing at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, and Carol's Second Act, starring Patricia Heaton, at 9:30. The drama Evil, from The Good Fight creators Michelle and Robert King, airs at 10 p.m. NBC has the Bradley Whitford starrer Perfect Harmony and Sunnyside, starring and co-created by Kal Penn, in the 8:30 and 9:30 spots.

Big Bang prequel Young Sheldon moves up a half hour to the leadoff spot on CBS. The final season of The Good Place is set for 9 p.m. on NBC, after airing at 8:30 and 9:30 last season. ABC, Fox and The CW are unchanged.

Top-Rated Returning Series
(All numbers are live-plus-7 for 2018-19)

Adults 18-49: Thursday Night Football (4.4), Grey's Anatomy (2.9), Young Sheldon (2.6)

Total viewers: Young Sheldon (14.72 million), Thursday Night Football (14.43 million), Mom (10.32 million)

Cable Heavyweights

TNT's Thursday NBA games pull in decent-sized audiences, as does TLC's Dr. Pimple Popper. Both are capable of drawing demographic ratings in line with some broadcast shows, but in terms of total audience they're more middleweights than heavyweights.

Vote of Confidence: The Unicorn 

Young Sheldon takes over the mantle of TV's most-watched comedy now that its parent show is gone, and while it's unlikely to reach Big Bang-level numbers, it's still as strong a lead-in for a half-hour as any network has. The Unicorn, in which Goggins plays a widower who suddenly finds himself a hot commodity, is CBS' only other single-camera comedy and thus might be a good tonal fit with Young Sheldon. But its spot also suggests CBS has high hopes for the show.

Tough Spot: Sunnyside

The 9:30 time slot is not an easy one: The highest-rated comedy last season that aired the majority of its episodes at 9:30 (on any night) was ABC's Single Parents, a very middle-of-the-pack show. NBC's Sunnyside seems like a pretty good match with lead-in The Good Place in terms of sensibility (both are executive produced by Mike Schur), but recent history suggests a big audience is not in the offing.

Forecast

The absence of The Big Bang Theory should make the race to claim the top non-NFL spot a pretty interesting one.

CBS' Young Sheldon finished last season well ahead of every other series in total viewers and it would be no surprise to see that happen again. In terms of demographics, the eternally solid Grey's Anatomy on ABC came out on top in adults 18-49 with delayed viewing factored in, and the two shows will likely be similarly neck-and-neck in the demo this season.

If CBS' new shows start slowly, ABC could be in a position to claim the demographic lead for the night as a whole (again, not counting Thursday Night Football). A Million Little Things performed pretty well after moving behind Grey's midway through last season, and the final season of How to Get Away With Murder should be competitive at 10 p.m.

Superstore and The Good Place drew reliable initial ratings last season and performed well in delayed viewing, but at seasons five and four, respectively, they aren't likely to grow much (The Good Place is also coming to an end this season). The same is true for primetime's longest-running drama, Law & Order: SVU. If Perfect Harmony and Sunnyside don't fall off too much in their spots, NBC will probably be happy.

The final season of Supernatural should continue to deliver for The CW. Legacies also fared decently in 2018-19 and takes the Vampire Diaries franchise into its second decade this season.