TV Long View: Here's Just How Big 'Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time' Is So Far

The ABC specials are averaging 3 million-plus more viewers than any other non-sports program this season.
Eric McCandless/ABC
'Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time'

Through its first three airings on ABC, Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time is averaging close to 15 million viewers in same-day ratings.

To say it's been a while since a network show consistently put up those kinds of numbers would be an understatement. And in the context of the current season, the game show is pulling in audiences almost no other entertainment show can match — even with the benefit of delayed viewing.

Greatest of All Time has grown its audience each night it has aired so far: 14.42 million for its debut on Jan. 7; 14.87 million the next night; and 15.55 million for round three. The competition featuring Jeopardy hall of famers Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter will air at least one more time, on Tuesday; the tournament ends when one player notches three nightly wins.

Those three episodes rank second, third and fourth among all entertainment programs so far this season in viewers. Only NBC's Golden Globes broadcast, with 18.32 million viewers, currently ranks ahead of it.

Each episode of Greatest of All Time has also outdrawn the first four games of the 2019 NBA Finals, the first five games of the 2019 World Series, all but one of ESPN's 17 Monday Night Football telecasts and seven of Fox's 11 Thursday Night Football showcases.

As for entertainment programming, the Jeopardy stunt's same-day average of 14.95 million viewers is currently running 32 percent — and more than 3.6 million viewers — ahead of the next most-watched show, CBS' NCIS at 11.33 million. It's also the top non-sports show in adults 18-49 with a 2.3 rating, 15 percent ahead of The Masked Singer's 2.0 on Fox.

It has been four years since any non-sports program averaged as many same-day viewers as Greatest of All Time is now. NCIS (16.6 million) and The Big Bang Theory (15.2 million) did so in the 2015-16 season.

None of these comparisons are entirely like-to-like. The sports telecasts average at least 2-1/2 hours each to Jeopardy's single hour, and it's arguably a good deal harder to maintain high viewership over a 22-episode season spanning eight months than it is over a two-week event.

The big numbers for the primetime tournament also shouldn't come as a huge surprise, given how popular the regular, syndicated version of the show is. Over the last two months of 2019, Jeopardy averaged 9.8 million viewers each week, peaking at 11.38 million in mid-November with the final rounds of the annual Tournament of Champions (which Holzhauer won).

No delayed-viewing figures for the tournament are available yet, but the multi-night format could mean that Greatest of All Time doesn't post the outsize gains of some scripted shows (which in general draw more audience after their first airing than unscripted shows). Even so, ABC will still be able to claim the show as among the most-watched of the season.

Greatest of All Time's same-day average viewership is currently higher than the seven-day audience for all but one entertainment show — NCIS again, which is currently averaging 15.26 million viewers after seven days. Even with a modest 10 percent bump in seven-day ratings, Jeopardy would stand at 16.45 million viewers.

Broadcasters have doubled down on live (or live-seeming, at least) events in the past years. ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke told The Hollywood Reporter she wants to have one "tentpole" event per month, whether it's something like Jeopardy, the Oscars or the classic sitcom restagings of Live in Front of a Studio Audience. Results have been mostly positive so far: May's first Live, November's The Little Mermaid Live and now Jeopardy have all scored well, and the Oscars, whether they go up or down in the ratings, will likely be the most-watched entertainment program of 2020. Other networks have mounted periodic live events in the past several years as well, ranging from the wildly successful (NBC's Sound of Music) to the disappointing in terms of ratings (Fox's Rent Live).

The use of live events to goose ratings calls to mind programming stunts from network TV's past, when miniseries, live spectaculars and other heavily promoted events were a staple. Maybe it's fitting that a show like Jeopardy, which bridges that past and the Peak TV present, is serving up such big audiences now.

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