Summer TV Ratings Winners and Losers: 'Yellowstone,' 'Sharp Objects' Hit; Broadcast Vets Miss

With the summer TV season winding down, The Hollywood Reporter assesses the ratings ups and downs from the past three months.
Courtesy of Paramount Network; Courtesy of HBO; Courtesy of ABC
Kevin Costner in 'Yellowstone'; Amy Adams in 'Sharp Objects'; 'Bachelorette' Becca Kurfin

Summer is just about over as far as the TV business is concerned.

The official Nielsen-measured start of the 2018-19 TV season isn't until Sept. 24, but with a number of cable series and even a broadcast show or two starting just after Labor Day, it's time to assess what worked and what didn't during the summer season.

A few big swings on cable paid off in the ratings, but the familiar (both on cable and network TV) was perhaps a little too familiar for some portion of the viewing public. Here are some ratings winners and losers:

WINNERS

Yellowstone: The 7-month-old Paramount Network looks to have found a cornerstone in the Kevin Costner Western saga from Taylor Sheridan. The show premiered in June to 5.3 million viewers in Live +7 — the biggest audience in Paramount's short history — and managed to keep most of those viewers around through its 10-episode run. It averaged 5 million multiplatform viewers per episode. Season two, naturally, is on the way.

Who Is America?: The Showtime series from Sacha Baron Cohen, officially announced just a week before it premiered, didn't do a ton of business in the linear Nielsen ratings. But its growth after initial airings, via streaming, on demand and DVR viewing, was astounding. Showtime says more than 90 percent of the much discussed show's 3.4 million weekly viewers watched after the on-air premiere, and Who Is America? also helped drive record signups for the channel's streaming service.

Sharp Objects: The very dark HBO miniseries might have lacked the lighter moments that its recent predecessor Big Little Lies has, but that by no means kept audiences away. Prior to the Aug. 26 finale (which had series highs in night-of viewership), Sharp Objects averaged 7 million weekly viewers across platforms, a bit below Big Little Lies' 8.5 million but easily the premium channel's biggest audience of the summer, outrating its Sunday companion Succession (4.2 million) by a healthy 67 percent.

America's Got Talent: Although its numbers are down a bit year to year (more on that below), AGT is still the biggest summer show around by a healthy margin. With a week of delayed viewing, the NBC competition series is averaging a 3.0 rating among adults 18-49 and 14.6 million viewers, way ahead of any competitors.

Making It and 24 Hours to Hell & Back: The summer's highest-rated new broadcast shows are TV comfort food: Making It is essentially a stateside, crafts-based take on The Great British Baking Show, complete with bighearted contestants and goofy but caring hosts (Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman). Gordon Ramsay's 24 Hours is a version of his long-running Kitchen Nightmares with a time clock attached. Both tweaks to proven formats worked, drawing decent-size audiences and earning renewals for each show.

ABC's Sunday game shows: The $100,000 Pyramid and To Tell the Truth are the only two broadcast shows to improve their ratings versus summer 2017. Pyramid's same-day numbers are up 15 percent in adults 18-49 (0.78 to 0.9), and To Tell the Truth improved by 17 percent (0.64 to 0.75) compared to its summer run a year ago (it's about even with the entirety of the previous season, which included episodes in January and February 2017).

Celebrity Family Feud is off slightly, but its 6 percent decline in the demo in live + same-day is a matter of just a few hundredths of a point. It's up a skosh in total viewers.

Dr. Pimple Popper: TLC's genius for self-explanatory yet somehow still intriguing series titles paid off handsomely in this docuseries about dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee, whose social media fame translated to cable TV quite well. The show ranked first in its time period in TLC's core demo of women 25-54 and attracted 2.9 million viewers in Live +7.

The World Cup: With most matches from Russia airing in the morning and early afternoon, and especially with the U.S. team not qualifying, English-language broadcaster Fox Sports was all but certain to face ratings declines from 2014. It did, but the company expressed satisfaction with its performance: The tournament as a whole averaged 2.7 million viewers (up 9 percent from non-U.S. matches in 2010) and the final delivered a total audience of 11.8 million on Fox; Telemundo's audience brought the total for the final to 17.2 million.

LOSERS

The World Cup: Despite the positive spin and extenuating circumstances, the 2018 World Cup fell well short of the last men's competition in 2014. Non-U.S. matches were down 20 percent overall from four years ago (when it aired on ESPN and ABC), and the final fell by more than 30 percent.

Broadcast TV in general …: ABC's Sunday aside, just about every veteran network show has declined versus summer 2017. America's Got Talent may still be an unchallenged No. 1, but its Tuesday episodes are down 12 percent in Live +7 compared to a year ago (down from the show's highest-rated season since 2013, but down nonetheless).

The Bachelorette (-8.5 percent) was the only returning unscripted show to avoid a double-digit decline. (All figures here are live + same-day.) Big Brother: down 19 percent across its three nights. Beat Shazam: down 18.5 percent. Bachelor in Paradise and Masterchef: down 11 percent each. American Ninja Warrior and The Gong Show: both off by 26 percent.

World of Dance and Love Connection share the dubious honor of being down the most, each dipping by 31 percent year to year.

… And broadcast scripted shows in particular: Not to put too fine a point on it, but woof. The summer's top-rated scripted show in adults 18-49 in Live +3 is the canceled (for the time being, at least) Code Black at 1.1. It's also the only show to reach a 1.0 in the demo.

Elementary, Shades of Blue and Marlon have all averaged 0.8 in Live +3. Rookies Take Two and Reverie have each mustered only 0.6, and CBS' Salvation is at 0.4 in Live +3 — below its same-day average of 0.5 in 2017.

Fear the Walking Dead: For the fourth season as a whole, Fear is running even in the 18-49 demo compared to season three. Since returning from its midseason hiatus, however, the show has struggled, tying its same-day series low ratings in the demo twice in the past three outings. Delayed viewing is flat, leaving Fear behind the curve.