TV Long View: The 2019-20 Season From Top to Bottom

The chasm between the highest- and lowest-rated shows point out how NFL games are almost a category unto themselves on network TV.
Zade Rosenthal/ NBC; Bob Mahoney/The CW
NBC's 'Sunday Night Football' (left) and The CW's 'Dynasty'

The most-watched primetime show of the 2019-20 TV season drew 34 times as many viewers as the least-watched one. In the key ad demographic of adults 18-49, the No. 1 program was a whopping 59 times ahead of the one in last place.

The median show in total viewers drew about a quarter of the audience of the No. 1 series, but nine times more than the one at the bottom. The spread between the top and the middle was larger among adults 18-49, with the median show getting about 17 percent the demo rating of the top one. Still, the one in the middle was 10 times larger than the bottom one.

The broadcast rankings for the season aren't quite as polarized as a typical cable chart, but there's still a big, big gap between the top and bottom.

The top program of the season in both adults 18-49 and total viewers is, unsurprisingly, NBC's Sunday Night Football — providing further evidence that football is pretty much its own category on broadcast TV. SNF and Fox's Thursday Night Football rank first and second in adults 18-49 and first and third in viewers for the season in Nielsen's seven-day figures, with CBS' NCIS coming in second in viewers.

The median shows — those in the exact middle of 133 ongoing series that aired on the broadcast networks this season (not including sports pre- and post-game programs) — are CBS' The Unicorn in adults 18-49, which averaged a 1.0 rating after seven days (it was one of 13 shows tied at that mark), and ABC's The Goldbergs in total viewers, with 5.31 million.

At the bottom are a pair of CW series, In the Dark in adults 18-49 and Dynasty in total viewers. Here's the spread for all networks:

All networks (133 shows) 18-49 rating Show Viewers (millions) Show
High 5.9 Sunday Night Football (NBC) 20.09 Sunday Night Football
High (non-sports) 3.2 The Masked Singer (Fox) 15.34 NCIS (CBS)
Median 1.0 The Unicorn (CBS) 5.31 The Goldbergs (ABC)
Low 0.1 In the Dark (CW) 0.59 Dynasty (CW)

Within each individual network, the spread between the top and bottom is not as pronounced — even at NBC and Fox, where having NFL franchises at the top of the charts skews things somewhat.

For NBC, Sunday Night Football draws between 10 and 15 times the audience for the network's lowest-rated shows (Sunnyside in total viewers, Little Big Shots in adults 18-49). Setting aside football, the gap closes considerably for the top entertainment show in each measurement.  

NBC (30 shows) 18-49 rating Show Viewers (millions) Show
High 5.9 Sunday Night Football 20.09 Sunday Night Football
High (non-sports) 2.9 This Is Us 11.7 Chicago Fire
Median 1.05 The Blacklist/Songland 5.07 Ellen's Game of Games/Dateline Fri.
Low 0.4 Little Big Shots 1.93 Sunnyside

The story is similar at Fox, where Thursday Night Football drew about 11 times more viewers than Duncanville, and about 15 times the 18-49 rating of the low show on the network, Saturday boxing showcase PBC Fight Night. The Masked Singer is the top non-sports show on the network with eight times the demo rating of PBC Fight Night and a similar eightfold advantage in viewers over Duncanville.

Fox (23 shows) 18-49 rating Show Viewers (millions) Show
High 4.5 Thursday Night Football 15.05 Thursday Night Football
High (non-sports) 3.2 The Masked Singer 10.73 The Masked Singer
Median 1.1 Family Guy/The Simpsons 3.25 Outmatched
Low 0.4 PBC Fight Night 1.3 Duncanville

ABC and CBS don't have the NFL in primetime, so the gap between their top- and lowest-rated primetime shows is much smaller — for both networks, the No. 1 series in the 18-49 demo (The Bachelor and Survivor, respectively) is about four times larger than the bottom show, and the total-viewer leader draws about four to 4 1/2 times the audience of the last-place finisher.

The decreased spread between first and last also means the median show on each network is closer to the mean than at Fox or NBC.

ABC (33 shows) 18-49 rating Show Viewers (millions) Show
High 2.4 The Bachelor 10.82 The Good Doctor
Median 1.0 Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 4.95 Shark Tank
Low 0.6 KIds Say the Darndest Things 2.39 NBA Saturday Primetime

CBS (30 shows) 18-49 rating Show Viewers (millions) Show
High 1.9 Survivor 15.34 NCIS
Median 1.1 NCIS: Los Angeles/NCIS: New Orleans 7.85 Criminal Minds/The Neighborhood
Low 0.5 48 Hours 4.04 48 Hours

Then there's The CW, whose shows are the most closely bunched in raw numbers: only 1.64 million viewers separates the top show (The Flash) from the bottom (Dynasty); in adults 18-49, the spread is only seven tenths of a point between The Flash and In the Dark. Despite that, though, the proportional gaps between the high and low points are bigger than some other networks: The Flash's 18-49 rating is eight times higher than that of In the Dark, and its total audience is nearly four times larger than Dynasty's.

The CW (17 shows) 18-49 rating Show Viewers (millions) Show
High 0.8 The Flash 2.23 The Flash
Median 0.4 Black Lightning 1.29 Roswell, New Mexico
Low 0.1 In the Dark 0.59 Dynasty

Source: Nielsen.