On an Ugly Night for Broadcast TV, the NFL Scores a Much-Needed Win

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Kylie Bunbury in the pilot episode of Fox's series 'Pitch' on Thursday.
Kylie Bunbury in the pilot episode of Fox's series 'Pitch' on Thursday. Credit: Tommy Garcia / Fox Broadcasting Co.

After three nights of somewhat encouraging numbers, the opening week of the 2016-17 broadcast TV season hit a wall on Thursday, as two new series garnered very little in the way of sampling and a host of returning shows suffered significant ratings erosion compared to last fall.

But for CBS's presentation of "Thursday Night Football" and ABC's long-running "Grey's Anatomy" (if the show were a human being, it would be eligible to apply for a drivers license three years from now), Thursday night was ugly.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, ABC took the biggest hit, as its primetime ratings plummeted 41% versus the year-ago night. With "Scandal" delayed to accommodate star Kerry Washington's pregnancy, the network's all-ShondaLand lineup was disrupted by an interloper of sorts in producer Josh Berman's new 9 p.m. series "Notorious." TGIT enthusiasts didn't cotton to the legal drama, as it drew just 5.39 million viewers and a 1.1 rating in the adults 18-to-49 demo, marking ABC's lowest-rated series premiere since last season's "Wicked City" bombed in the Tuesday 10 p.m. slot.

Overall deliveries for the "Notorious" premiere were down 47% compared to the 10.2 million viewers who tuned in for the fall 2015 season premiere of "Scandal," but more importantly, that 1.1 demo marked a vertiginous 67% drop from ABC's year-ago 3.3 rating.

The first round of "Notorious" data is particularly vexing, given its estimable lead-in. At 8 p.m., "Grey's Anatomy" returned for its 13th season with an average draw of 8.75 million viewers and a 2.5 in the 18-to-49 demo, which was off 11% from last year's 2.8 rating. "Notorious" squandered more than half (54%) of its lead-in.

"Notorious" wasn't the only new show to strike out with viewers last night, as the premiere of Fox's heavily-promoted baseball drama "Pitch" drew a wobbly 4.23 million viewers and a 1.1 in the 18-to-49 demo. While that was up a bit compared to Fox's year-ago performance, it's worth noting that on Sept. 24, 2015, the network aired a repeat of its underperforming horror spoof "Scream Queens." The encore delivered a 0.7 rating. The following week, the veteran series "Bones" moved into the 9 p.m. slot, averaging a 1.4.

While "Notorious" couldn't take advantage of its sturdy lead-in, "Pitch" was hampered straight off the bat by its anemic battery mate. At 8 p.m., Fox's sophomore drama "Rosewood" scratched out a miserly 3.65 million viewers and a 0.7 in the target demo; by way of comparison, the much-reviled cop show "Backstrom" didn't fall that low until its thirteenth and final episode in April 2015.

Fox may take some comfort in the fact that "Pitch" actually improved 57% over its lead-in, which effectively makes it a self-starter. What it will be paired with when Fox heads into the 2016 World Series is anyone's guess, but it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which "Rosewood" will stay put. However things shake out, it's a tough break for "Rosewood," which in its first season averaged a 1.5 rating in the C3 currency, thanks in part to its having been paired off with "Empire" on Wednesday nights.

(If nothing else, the premiere week results would seem to justify the ongoing trend of shifting movie dollars out of their traditional Thursday night stronghold to the high-octane, big-reach environment that is Sunday night.)

NBC continued the arduous task of reconstructing its once-fabled Thursday lineup, scheduling comedy on the night for the first time in exactly 20 months. At 8 p.m., "Superstore" led off the night with an average draw of 5.45 million viewers and a respectable 1.5 in the 18-to-49 demo, while Mike Schur's new sitcom "The Good Place" moved into its regular 8:30 p.m. slot with an audience of 5.25 million viewers and a 1.4 rating. While the combined comedy numbers were down quite a bit from the 2.0 rating that "Heroes Reborn" put up in the hour a year ago, they were also a damn sight better than the 0.7 NBC managed in its final night of Thursday comedy on Jan. 22, 2015, when "Bad Judge" and "A to Z" staggered off into the sunset.

At 9 p.m., "Chicago Med" (1.4) was down 30% compared to "Heroes Reborn" and dropped 36% versus its year-ago Tuesday night series premiere. "The Blacklist" capped off the night with a 1.3, edging last fall's series premiere of "The Player" (1.2), but down 28% from its own third-season opener. All told, NBC's primetime ratings were down 13%.

While things were tough all over on Thursday night, the NFL bounced back in a big way as CBS and NFL Network's simulcast of "Thursday Night Football" delivered 17.5 million viewers and a 10.6 household rating, making it the first primetime pigskin event to show year-over-year gains. While admittedly modest, the 1% improvement "TNF" made in its average household rating should put the breaks on all the sky-is-falling chatter … at least until next week's batch of ratings are processed.

Despite having to forge ahead with a third-string quarterback under center, the New England Patriots stomped the guts out of the visiting Houston Texans, belying the stingy 1-point spread with a 27-0 victory. Apparently, the Patriots mystique was sufficient to draw fans to the second-ever "TNF" Twitter live-stream, because more people watched the game via the social media service than a week ago. The Twitter stream drew 2.2 million unique streams, up from 2.1 a week ago, while averaging 327,000 viewers per minute. Last week's Jets-Bills stream averaged 243,000 viewers per minute, a metric that is far more relevant in the context of TV deliveries than the uniques estimates.

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