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The broadcast networks didn’t have a very good year in 2020-21, and that’s reflected in the rankings for individual shows as well. Within that context, however, a handful of series managed to overachieve relative to the rest of the pack.
Bad news first: In Nielsen’s final three-day ratings for the traditional TV season (Sept. 21, 2020 to May 26, 2021), not a single entertainment show managed to crack a 2.0 rating in the key ad sales demographic of adults 18-49 (a 2.0 is equivalent to about 2.59 million people in that age range). The only two primetime shows — out of 138 that aired on the big four broadcasters — that did were NFL telecasts: NBC’s Sunday Night Football (4.7) and Fox’s Thursday Night Football (3.9).
(For the purposes of these rankings, sports pre- and post-game shows aren’t included, nor are shows that aired fewer than three episodes during the season. Series on The CW are counted separately; see below.)
On average, those 138 shows averaged a 0.81 rating among adults 18-49 and 4.69 million total viewers with three days of delayed viewing. Taking out sports and news programs made virtually no difference: Entertainment series alone came in at 0.79 in the 18-49 demo and are equal to the total viewer average of the entire sample. Removing the high numbers for the two NFL primetime showcases was offset by also taking out a number of shows closer to the bottom of the rankings.
Aside from the two NFL telecasts (which also led primetime in total viewers), seven shows managed to at least double the mean 18-49 rating, and six did that in total viewers.
In the 18-49 demo, the best of the best are Fox’s The Masked Singer (1.8 rating), ABC’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and NBC’s This Is Us (all 1.7), and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, CBS’ The Equalizer and Fox’s 911 (all 1.6).
The Equalizer (11.26 million viewers) is also among the six shows that double the average viewer count. It’s joined by four other CBS series — NCIS (11.74 million), 60 Minutes (10.63 million), FBI (10.25 million), Blue Bloods (9.61 million) — and NBC’s Chicago Fire (9.61 million).
Just below the top echelon is a set of shows that pulled in audiences at least 50 percent higher than the average. There are 11 that meet that standard in adults 18-49 and 15 in total viewers.
The Wednesday and Thursday editions of CBS’ Big Brother and NBC’s Chicago Fire, Chicago PD and Law & Order: Organized Crime all averaged 1.4 in adults 18-49. The Monday Big Brother, Fox’s 911: Lone Star and NBC’s Chicago Med and Law & Order: SVU are at 1.3, and 60 Minutes and ABC’s Station 19 are at 1.2.
The total viewer group consists of NBC’s Chicago Med, Chicago PD, CBS’ Young Sheldon, 911, This Is Us, CBS’ FBI: Most Wanted, the Monday and Tuesday editions of NBC’s The Voice, Fox’s 911: Lone Star, CBS’ Bull and NCIS: Los Angeles, L&O: Organized Crime, CBS’ Magnum P.I., ABC’s Sunday American Idol, The Masked Singer and Grey’s Anatomy. They averaged between 7.07 million and 9.22 million viewers.
A Bit About The CW
The fifth English-language network didn’t have a show in the top 100 of either of the overall network rankings; its series averaged 859,000 viewers and a 0.2 rating in the 18-49 demo for the season.
First-year shows Superman & Lois and Walker both drew 2.11 million viewers and were the only shows to double the average viewership. The final run of Supernatural (1.48 million) and a third rookie, Kung Fu (1.42 million), reached the +50 percent threshold. Riverdale (840,000) was closest to the mean.
In adults 18-49, Superman & Lois (0.5), Supernatural (0.5), All American (0.4), The Flash (0.4) and Walker (0.4) doubled the network average. Eight shows hit the 0.2 average.
Something has to finish last, and soft demo ratings and small total audiences tended to converge at the bottom of each network’s list. The weakest show for each network is as follows:
ABC: Soul of a Nation (0.3 in 18-49, 1.65 million viewers)
CBS: One Day at a Time/9:30 p.m. (0.2, 1.33 million)
The CW: Dynasty (0.1 (tied with several others), 365,000)
Fox: PBC Fight Night (0.2, 1.04 million)
NBC: Ellen’s Game of Games/Sunday (0.2, 1.47 million)
The Most Average Shows
A large chunk of series fall within 20 percent of the big four average — there are 32 such shows in total viewers and 50 in the 18-49 demo. But which are the very closest to the middle?
The Monday Big Brother is almost exactly on the mean in total viewers. It averaged 4.688 million viewers for the four episodes that fell within the regular TV season; the all-series average is 4.691 million. A Million Little Things (4.72 million) and Shark Tank (4.73 million) are also very close to average.
In the 18-49 demo, 19 series — among them The Simpsons, The Conners, Manifest, A Million Little Things, Shark Tank, SEAL Team, SWAT and New Amsterdam — averaged a 0.8 rating for the season. A 0.8, in fact, was nearly the most common rating on the big four; 20 shows averaged 0.6.
Based on its proximity to the averages in both adults 18-49 and total viewers, it’s safe to say A Million Little Things — which is within 1.3 percent of the mean in both measures — is the most average show on TV, ratings-wise, in 2020-21.
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