TV Long View: 4 Takeaways From the 2019-20 Freshman Class

Lego Masters, 911: Lone Star and FBI: Most Wanted - Publicity stills - Split - H 2020
Ray Mickshaw/FOX; FOX; Mark SchŠfer /CBS

With the finales of ABC's For Life on Tuesday and The CW's Katy Keene on Thursday, the first-year class of 2019-20 has officially wrapped.

None of the 36 broadcast shows that have made their series premieres since September has entered the zeitgeist in the way that, say, The Masked Singer or This Is Us have in recent years. Several have, however, built strong audiences and seem poised to become solid parts of their networks' schedules in the future. In the current landscape of cord-cutting and exploding streaming options, that's a pretty good spot for a network show to occupy.

Most of these shows are still awaiting word on their futures — fewer than half have received up or down votes yet, with 10 renewals and five cancellations as of publication. But if recent trends hold, about half of the 30 scripted shows will live to see a second season.

There are also some clear trends that emerged from the freshman class — some of them continuations of long-standing network practices and one or two that highlight the way the network game is changing.

First, the numbers: Below are the top 15 rookie series (including ties) in adults 18-49 and total viewers, with total ratings on the left and seven-day gains on the right. All figures are Nielsen seven-day ratings for the season through May 3. (The Masked Singer: After the Mask is excluded as it had only aired twice by May 3.)

Adults 18-49

Totals   Seven-day gains
Show Network Rating   Show Network Rating 7-day gains
Lego Masters Fox 1.9   Lego Masters Fox 1.9 0.8 (73%)
911: Lone Star Fox 1.8   Prodigal Son Fox 1.4 0.7 (100%)
Prodigal Son Fox 1.4   911: Lone Star Fox 1.8 0.6 (50%)
FBI: Most Wanted CBS 1.2   Stumptown ABC 1.1 0.6 (120%)
Stumptown ABC 1.1   Evil CBS 1.1 0.6 (120%)
Evil CBS 1.1   FBI: Most Wanted CBS 1.2 0.5 (71%)
For Life ABC 1.1   For Life ABC 1.1 0.5 (83%)
Emergence ABC 1.0   Emergence ABC 1.0 0.5 (100%)
Deputy Fox 1.0   Deputy Fox 1.0 0.4 (67%)
Who Wants to Be
a Millionaire
ABC 1.0   Who Wants to Be
a Millionaire
ABC 1.0 0.3 (43%)
The Unicorn CBS 1.0   The Unicorn CBS 1.0 0.3 (43%)
Bob Hearts Abishola CBS 1.0   Mixed-ish ABC 0.9 0.3 (50%)
Mixed-ish ABC 0.9   All Rise CBS 0.9 0.3 (50%)
All Rise CBS 0.9   Carol's Second Act CBS 0.9 0.3 (50%)
Carol's Second Act CBS 0.9   Bluff City Law NBC 0.9 0.3 (50%)
Bluff City Law NBC 0.9   The Baker and the Beauty ABC 0.8 0.3 (50%)
Broke CBS 0.9   Lincoln Rhyme NBC 0.8 0.3 (60%)
Bless the Harts Fox 0.9   Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist NBC 0.7 0.3 (75%)
        Batwoman CW 0.5 0.3 (150%)

Total Viewers

Totals   Seven-day gains
Show Network Viewers (millions)   Show Network Viewers (millions) 7-day gains
FBI: Most Wanted CBS 10.22   FBI: Most Wanted CBS 10.22 3.31 (48%)
911: Lone Star Fox 9.09   Stumptown ABC 5.96 3.12 (110%)
All Rise CBS 7.68   Emergence ABC 5.67 2.96 (109%)
Tommy CBS 7.66   911: Lone Star Fox 9.09 2.81 (45%)
Bob Hearts Abishola CBS 7.54   Tommy CBS 7.66 2.81 (58%)
The Unicorn CBS 7.1   Evil CBS 6.29 2.71 (76%)
Broke CBS 7.05   Deputy Fox 6.34 2.67 (73%)
Carol's Second Act CBS 6.59   Bluff City Law NBC 2.34 2.58 (71%)
Deputy Fox 6.34   Prodigal Son Fox 5.83 2.46 (73%)
Evil CBS 6.29   All Rise CBS 7.68 2.17 (39%)
Bluff City Law NBC 6.24   Lego Masters Fox 5.6 2.09 (60%)
Who Wants to Be
a Millionaire
ABC 6.1   For Life ABC 4.41 1.97 (81%)
Stumptown ABC 5.96   Lincoln Rhyme NBC 5.57 1.9 (52%)
Prodigal Son Fox 5.83   Carol's Second Act CBS 6.59 1.61 (32%)
Emergence ABC 5.67   Bob Hearts Abishola CBS 7.54 1.57 (26%)

And the takeaways:

It (Usually) Pays to Franchise

Near the top of all those charts are Fox's 911: Lone Star and CBS' FBI: Most Wanted, spinoffs of two of the bigger dramas on their respective networks. Lone Star had a big premiere following the NFL's NFC Championship in January and continued to put up solid ratings in its regular home. FBI: Most Wanted, meanwhile, cruised along nicely for most of the season before taking off with a late-season crossover with its parent show. Both shows have been renewed for next season.

On the other side of things, The CW's Riverdale spinoff Katy Keene posted soft numbers for the network, averaging about half the viewers of its parent show. The CW has yet to make a decision on the show, making Katy Keene the only rookie it hasn't picked up for 2020-21 yet.

Scheduling Can Still Matter

The top-rated new series of the season among adults 18-49, and tied for No. 7 show in the demographic among 122 entertainment series, is Fox's Lego Masters. It is likely not a coincidence that it aired behind the No. 1 entertainment show, The Masked Singer. Fox created a very compatible Wednesday night block earlier in the year, one that will likely result in a second season for Lego Masters.

Similarly, FBI: Most Wanted drafted well off of FBI on Tuesdays at CBS (and as a bonus, the show it replaced on Tuesdays, NCIS: New Orleans, improved the 10 p.m. Sunday slot in the second half of the season). Fox's animated series Bless the Harts cracks the top 15 in the demo thanks almost entirely to NFL doubleheader Sundays on Fox in the fall; without those, its 18-49 rating would have been more than 20 percent lower.

10 O'clock Is a Replay Zone

In the days before delayed viewing, 10 p.m. dramas were often some of the biggest shows on TV, with the likes of ER, Law & Order and NYPD Blue regularly appearing at the top of the charts. For several years, whatever viewers are watching on their DVRs often outdraws the same-day ratings for 10 o'clock shows.

Consequently, those 10 p.m. shows are likely to get a big jump from delayed viewing themselves. Three freshman shows on ABC, CBS or NBC at least doubled their 18-49 ratings after a week, and all of them — ABC's Stumptown and Emergence and CBS' Evil — aired at 10 p.m. All three, plus FBI: Most Wanted and ABC's For Life, ranked in the top eight among first-year shows for total 18-49 gain. Five of the top six rookies in viewers added (Most Wanted, Stumptown, Emergence, CBS' Tommy and Evil) aired at 10 p.m.

NBC's Rookies Had a Rough Go

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist is a decent bet for renewal, based on critical acclaim and strong multiplatform ratings (it gets more than half its long-tail audience from digital platforms). It might be the only one. The network's most-watched first-year series, the Jimmy Smits-led legal drama Bluff City Law, didn't get an extension past its initial 10-episode order. The rest of the rookie slate ranged from underwhelming (Perfect Harmony, Lincoln Rhyme, Council of Dads) to downright weak (Indebted, Sunnyside) in terms of ratings. NBC has already ordered four new shows for next season; a near-wholesale cleanout of this year's rookies wouldn't be a shock.

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