Summer TV's Ratings Winners and Losers (So Far)

Game of Thrones (HBO), Lynn Whitfield Greenleaf (OWN) and UnReal (Lifetime) -Split-H 2016
Courtesy of HBO; OWN; Lifetime

Summer is officially upon us. A historically subdued time on the TV calendar, the unrelenting pace of content output today has made it so that it's now almost as competitive as the traditional broadcast season. Almost.

And while it's certainly become harder to gauge success in these times of fractured viewing, it's not impossible. And there's certainly no harm in trying. So as the off-season starts to hit its stride, here's a look at the shows on cable and broadcast that are making it work or working the best they can — as well as a few that might already be on borrowed time.

The Valedictorian
Sure, it started in the spring, but scripted summer TV will not get bigger than Game of Thrones. The HBO drama remains appointment viewing for, per the network, 23.3 million viewers a week in the U.S. alone. Its live draw also reached a series crescendo (thus far) with the June 26 season finale, an episode that's already seen its premiere telecast climb to 11.5 million viewers with live-plus-3 ratings.

The Winners
Second place is not a bad spot to be in when the No. 1 slot is occupied by one of the most popular shows in modern TV. Cable's current occupants of that slot are TNT two-fer Rizzoli & Isles and Major Crimes. Yes, they skew senior, but there's no ignoring their lingering appeal with audiences — most recently averaging a respective 6 million and 5.8 million viewers. Both shows certainly premiered better than one member of the cable network's new class (see below). Oprah Winfrey Network debut Greenleaf, starring the CEO in a guest role, got off to a promising start. Its premiere grew to a robust 3.9 million and 1.1 rating among adults 18-49. The subsequent double-up slipped but grew more with time-shifting — though it quickly dipped behind network champ The Haves and the Have Nots. One of Tyler Perry's many (many) series on the network, its midseason premiere grew to 3.5 million viewers. On the broadcast side, ABC's "Fun and Games" block is off to a good start — as is NBC unscripted effort Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge. Although it declined in its Thursday move, a night-of 1.0 rating among adults 18-49 in week four is nothing for a summer series to turn up its nose at. (Still, legacy reality shows America's Got Talent, The Bachelorette and Big Brother, on NBC, ABC and CBS, respectively, remain impossible to beat. They occupy the top three slots on broadcast's weekly ranking in the key demo.)

The Ambiguous
Linear ratings, even with DVR lifts, are no longer the clearest measure of success for TV series — particularly on cable. But there's no doubting the "meh" factor of a slew of new and new-ish shows' live-plus-3 returns. TNT's Animal Kingdom, which has been steady with live ratings varying between 1.1 million and 1.3 million viewers, still can't crack the 2 million mark with initial time-shifting. Lifetime's UnREAL continues to see its buzz outweigh its viewership. On the bright side: Live-plus-3 ratings more than double its live haul, most recently giving it 1 million viewers. But even with all of that good will, it's still down from its first summer. In other premiere news, it's also too soon to tell for USA drama Queen of the South. But, for what it's worth, the premiere nabbed 2.2 million viewers (874,000 of them adults 18-49) with live-plus-3.

The Losers
It's much easier to call a spade a spade on broadcast — or, in this case, a stinker a stinker. That's bad news for CBS' BrainDead. The first-season drama, from the creators of The Good Wife, recently took just a 0.5 rating in the key demo on air night. Time-shifting isn't helping much, moving it up to a 0.7 with adults 18-49 and 4.5 million viewers. Still, the show's off-net streaming pact with Amazon should lift improve its situation. NBC drama Aquarius, supposedly saved by an online binge in its first season, continues to languish next to the network's unscripted roster. The most recent episode only pulled a 0.4 rating in the key demo and 1.96 million viewers on premiere night. On cable, there's also the curious matter of Cinemax's Outcast. Fox International Studios put out a release bragging that 26 million had viewed the show outside the U.S. Well, domestically, premiere episodes don't crack a quarter-million views and DVR only puts it at a slightly less-dismal 400,000. By comparison, that's about half the audience of AMC nonstarter Feed the Beast.