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The traditional 2019-20 TV season ends Wednesday, and like most every other aspect of life, it was a strange one.
Two dozen scripted series, for one thing, ended their seasons in March or April after being forced to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. That’s almost as many as managed to make it to May (32), either by virtue of having completed enough filming ahead of the shutdown or adding in a few more repeats than usual prior to their finales.
The early days of stay-at-home orders spiked ratings across the board, just at the time when they would normally have begun the annual post-daylight saving slide. After a late March peak, though, overall TV usage has slowly but steadily declined each week since then, bringing ratings for recent weeks back down to expected levels.
And, as usual, the shows that sit at the top of the ratings charts for the full season haven’t aired in months: NBC’s and Fox’s primetime NFL broadcasts once again eclipsed everything else on the schedule.
Below are the network ratings and high- and lowlights for individual shows in the season.
The Network Race
Fox will lead the season among adults 18-49 for the first time in eight years with a 1.7 rating in the key ad-sales demographic. Thanks in no small part to having the Super Bowl, a primetime NFC Championship game and a full season of The Masked Singer, the network is the only broadcaster up in both the demo and total viewers compared to last season.
CBS, meanwhile, will claim its 12th consecutive total-viewer crown on the back of its regular series. The network’s overall numbers are down year to year, due partly to not having the Super Bowl this season as it did last year. CBS also missed out on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which wasn’t played this year.
Here are the network numbers for the season, along with changes from 2018-19. Figures below are “most current” — a combination of seven-day ratings and same-day numbers for the most recent two weeks — through May 17.
|Adults 18-49||ABC||CBS||Fox||NBC||The CW||Telemundo||Univision|
|vs. 2018-19||even||-0.3 (-29%)||+0.3 (21%)||-0.1 (-7%)||-0.1 (-25%)||even||+0.1 (25%)|
|Viewers (millions)||ABC||CBS||Fox||NBC||The CW||Telemundo||Univision|
|vs. 2018-19||-0.14 (-3%)||-1.27 (-14%)||+0.95 (18%)||-0.67 (-9%)||-0.28 (-21%)||-0.08 (-7%)||+0.1 (7%)|
Fox and CBS can stand on their overall leads, while ABC and NBC are both touting their relative strength without sports or news programming. Taking away those two categories — which get a far greater percentage of their viewers via same-day ratings — the networks are more tightly bunched.
ABC, Fox and NBC all average a 1.1 rating among adults 18-49 with entertainment programming, with CBS back a little at 1.0. ABC holds the slimmest of leads in the number of viewers in the key demo, with 1.46 million to 1.45 million for Fox and 1.37 million for NBC. CBS is at 1.23 million. Slicing the pie even thinner, NBC claims the No. 1 spot in scripted programs only.
There is, however, a reason networks pay hundreds of millions of dollars for sports rights. Their ratings points count, too, as do those for news programs.
As for the individual shows …
Dick Wolf: The mega-producer has six series on two networks, and four of them — CBS’ FBI and all three of NBC’s Chicago dramas — rank in the top 10 in total viewers for the season. (All figures for individual shows are seven-day ratings through May 10, and rankings exclude sports pre- and post-game shows.) Chicago Fire (11.7 million viewers) and Chicago PD (11.23 million) grew slightly compared to last year, and FBI (12.55 million) and Chicago Med (11.22 million) are within 150,000 viewers of their 2018-19 averages. All four are within 0.2 of their year-ago averages in adults 18-49, as well. CBS’ FBI: Most Wanted is the most-watched new series of the season with 10.22 million viewers. Only Law & Order: SVU (6.46 million viewers, 1.4 in adults 18-49) suffered significant losses.
The Bachelor: The veteran ABC reality show put up ratings in 2020 that were virtually identical to its 2019 run: It averaged a 2.4 in the 18-49 demo in both seasons and managed to finish just ahead of last year in total viewers (7.93 million vs. 7.92 million). With overall broadcast ratings down.
The Masked Singer: Though the two cycles this season were both down from last year’s breakout first season, the Fox competition show will end the season as the only non-sports program to break a 3.0 rating among adults 18-49 (there were three last year). It has a 3.2 rating for the season, and its 10.78 million viewers rank 12th overall.
The NFL: For the second straight year, regular-season games were up in the ratings: They averaged 16.5 million viewers across all broadcast windows, a 5 percent improvement over 2018 and the highest mark for the league since 2016. The first two rounds of the playoffs and the Super Bowl were also up, although the conference championship games fell to an 11-year low. NBC’s Sunday Night Football (20.09 million viewers) was the most-watched primetime show in same-day viewing for the ninth straight year.
911 and Station 19: The two first-responder shows (like Chicago Fire and PD) both improved in viewers, with Fox’s 911 adding about 350,000 people and ABC’s Station 19 growing by almost 900,000. Both are within 0.1 of their 18-49 ratings from a season ago.
Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time: Were it a regular series, the four-night ABC event — in which all-time Jeopardy winners Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer played a first-to-three-wins tournament — would have been the most-watched show of the season with 16.39 million viewers.
All American: The second-year drama was the only CW series to increase its audience this season, averaging about 120,000 more viewers than it did in 2018-19.
This Is Us and Young Sheldon: These two come with a caveat, as the two shows were the top drama and comedy of the season. However, both also suffered significant ratings erosion in 2019-20. NBC’s This Is Us fell by 24 percent in adults 18-49 (3.8 to 2.9) and 16 percent in viewers (13.8 million to 11.55 million), while CBS’ Young Sheldon had second-year drops of 38 percent in the demo (2.6 to 1.6) and 22 percent in viewers (14.72 million to 11.45 million).
NBA Saturday Primetime: Mirroring ratings declines league-wide, ABC’s weekly NBA showcase was having a rough season before the league shut down in mid-March. Its audience slipped by more than 30 percent year to year to 2.39 million viewers.
Last Man Standing: The sitcom’s second year on Fox still brought in decent numbers, averaging 6.4 million viewers and a 1.2 among adults 18-49. It was also down quite a bit, falling by 1.9 million viewers (23 percent) and half a point in the demo (29 percent).
The Oscars and Emmys: After stopping four years of ratings declines in 2019, the 2020 Oscars fell to all-time lows in both total viewers (23.64 million) and adults 18-49 (5.3) for ABC. The Emmys also had all-time lows in September on Fox, falling below 7 million viewers and managing just a 1.7 in the demo. The Golden Globes and Grammys were also down compared to 2019, but their declines were not nearly as steep.
Remotely filmed versions of live network shows: Series including American Idol, The Voice and Saturday Night Live pivoted to remote production to close out their seasons, and the broadcast nets aired a host of at-home specials. The first wave of such shows, including the first Disney Family Singalong and the first SNL at Home, pulled in strong ratings. But subsequent SNL episodes and the final episodes of Idol and The Voice drew below-average numbers, owing in part to bad timing — they aired as TV usage levels were falling — and maybe partly to audience fatigue with the remote format.
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