Fall TV Season Stumbles Off the Blocks

Ratings Declines Abound, But 'Blindspot' Shows Promise

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Stark Sands as Dash, Megan Good as Det. Laura Vega and Nick Zano as Arthur in 'Minority Report' on Fox.
Stark Sands as Dash, Megan Good as Det. Laura Vega and Nick Zano as Arthur in 'Minority Report' on Fox. Credit: Michael Becker/Fox
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While it's far too early to make any sweeping generalizations about the new broadcast season, the first night's worth of Nielsen data suggests that TV's ratings crunch is a feature, not a bug.

On a night in which the number of Americans watching TV was off 7% versus the year-ago period, ratings for each and every returning series were down significantly -- so much so that even popular franchises like "The Big Bang Theory" and "The Voice" took a tumble. At the same time, at least one new show put up some promising early numbers.

According to Nielsen fast national data, the premiere of NBC's new thriller "Blindspot" delivered an average audience of 10.6 million viewers and a 3.1 rating among adults 18 to 49, topping ABC's veteran "Castle" (1.2) and CBS's "NCIS: Los Angeles" (1.2) in the 10 p.m. hour. While "Blindspot" made short work of its competition, the pilot episode was off 11% when compared to last fall's time slot occupant, "The Blacklist," which posted a preliminary 3.5 in the "dollar demo."

Like "The Blacklist" before it, "Blindspot" had the advantage of leading out of NBC's top-rated entertainment series, "The Voice." The ninth cycle of the musical competition tuned up in front of 12.1 million viewers, of which more than a third (4.44 million) were members of the 18-to-49 set. That marked the show's lowest-rated premiere broadcast.

For its part, "Blindspot" retained 82% of its immediate lead-in, as the final half-hour of "The Voice" notched a 3.8 in the demo.

The news was nowhere near as encouraging for Fox, which finished last among the Big Four networks with a preliminary 1.3 rating. Leading off the night with a tepid 4.49 million viewers and a 1.6 in the 18-to-49 demographic, "Gotham" lost more than half of its series premiere rating (3.3) and was off 6% when compared to its May 4 season finale.

Things grew even tougher in the 9-10 p.m. slot, as the debut of "Minority Report" eked out the night's lowest numbers, drawing 3.09 million viewers and a 1.1 in the demo. By way of comparison, Fox's lowest-rated freshman debuts in 2014-15 ("Red Band Society" and "Gracepoint") opened to a 1.3 and a 1.2, respectively. Both shows were canceled; "Red Band" was put on a two-month hiatus after its tenth episode and upon its return was remanded to the purgatory of Saturday night.

Monday's third launch finished somewhere between the highs of "Blindspot" and the depths of "Minority Report." The CBS ensemble comedy "Life in Pieces" earned strong sampling with 11.5 million overall viewers and a 2.7 among the 18-to-49 crowd; more importantly, the premiere averaged a 3.8 in the network's target demo (adults 25 to 54). Unfortunately, "Life in Pieces" squandered 40% of its "Big Bang Theory" lead-in (6.3 in adults 25 to 54) and attracted 6 million fewer viewers than the anchor comedy.

Both "Big Bang" and "Life in Pieces" will move to Thursday nights starting Nov. 5, after CBS wraps its second season of "Thursday Night Football."

As was the case with every other show on the dial, CBS's Monday night dramas also suffered significant year-over-year declines. The sophomore strip "Scorpion" was down 31% versus its September 2014 premiere, drawing a a 2.2 in the 18-to-49 demo and a 3.1 among adults 25 to 54, while veteran cop drama "NCIS: Los Angeles" fell 37% to a 1.2/1.9.

No broadcast series took a bigger hit than ABC's creaky procedural "Castle," which plummeted 45% at 10 p.m. to a 1.2 rating. Elder-skewing lead-in "Dancing with the Stars" (1.8) was down 14% from last week's opener. (Per Nielsen, 2.29 million "DWTS" viewers were members of the 18-to-49 constituency; as the two-hour show delivered a total haul of 11.6 viewers, a full 80% of the audience fell outside the demo.)

In light of Monday night's usage statistics, the overall ratings declines are not at all surprising. Among adults 18-to-49, prime-time PUT levels (or people using TV) were down 12% versus the first night of the 2014-15 campaign, while viewership of adults 25-54 dropped 9%. Mobile devices continued to siphon off younger Americans, as 18-to-34 PUT levels fell 16% and the 18-to-24 set dropped 23%.

It gets worse. On a night that featured a "Monday Night Football" dustup between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts and a number of MLB games with playoff implications, TV's biggest losses were felt in the male 18-to-24 demo. In what was the biggest demographic defection of the night, more than a quarter (27%) of young men in that age range tuned out entirely.

The networks suit up for another round Tuesday night, as the second official evening of the 35-week season kicks off with three more series launches. At 8 p.m., ABC lights the lights at 8 p.m. with the premiere of its grownup-friendly "Muppets" -- Statler and Waldorf will be there to keep things in check if they get too rowdy -- while Fox counters with Ryan Murphy's campy slasher homage, "Scream Queens." The demon spawn of "Heathers" and "Friday the 13th" runs for two hours before signing off at 10 p.m., whereupon CBS revs up its pharmaceutically enhanced drama "Limitless."