'Empire' Smaller but Still Sprawling as TV Premiere Week Continues

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Taraji P. Henson, Bryshere Gray and Jussie Smollett in the third-season premiere of 'Empire' on Fox.
Taraji P. Henson, Bryshere Gray and Jussie Smollett in the third-season premiere of 'Empire' on Fox. Credit: Chuck Hodes/Fox Broadcasting Co.
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The third night of premiere week ratings were all over the map, as broadcast's biggest scripted series returned to a much smaller audience than its year-ago opener, while a trio of heavily-promoted newcomers put up solid, if unspectacular numbers.

According to Nielsen fast national data, Fox's "Empire" kicked off its third cycle with an average draw of 10.8 million viewers and a 4.1 rating in the adults 18-to-49 demo, and while that was flat compared to its May 18 season finale, it also marked a steep 39% drop versus last fall's premiere, which delivered a staggering 16.2 million viewers and a 6.7 in the demo.

If it appears that "Empire" has lost a lot of its earlier heat, it's worth noting that the show historically has managed to recapture millions of lost commercial views in the all-important C3 and C7 metrics against which all ratings guarantees are made. (C3 approximates commercial viewing over a program's first three days of viewing, and C7 does the equivalent for seven days.) Last season, "Empire" added an industry-leading 1.2 ratings points upon conversion from live-same-day to C3, improving from an initial 4.4 average for all 18 episodes to a 5.6 in the currency. To put those gains in context, the average gain for scripted broadcast series in 2016-17 was 0.2 ratings points.

As expected, "Empire" lead-in "Lethal Weapon" enjoyed the same sort of reverse-halo effect that last season's 8 p.m. anchor ("Rosewood") demonstrated, as the premiere's ratings climbed from a 1.9 in the first half-hour to a 2.4 from 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. For the full hour, "Lethal Weapon" bowed to a 2.2, down two-tenths compared to the "Rosewood' premiere's 2.4 rating.

Over on ABC, the Minnie Driver family sitcom "Speechless" looks to be a good fit with the rest of the network's two-hour comedy block, as its preliminary 2.0 rating among adults 18-to-49 matched lead-in "The Goldbergs" and "Black-ish" at 9:30 p.m. "Speechless" was down 17% compared to last season's "Goldbergs" premiere, while lead-out "Modern Family" kicked off its eighth season with a 2.6, down 19% versus the year-ago 3.2 demo.

At 10 p.m., ABC's most anticipated new series, the Kiefer Sutherland-saves-the-world drama "Designated Survivor" didn't quite live up to early expectations, drawing 9.95 million viewers and a 2.3 rating. While "Designated Survivor" easily won its time slot and was a huge improvement compared to former occupant "Nashville" (1.2), only 30% of its audience can claim membership in the 18-to-49 club.

(The relatively low target-to-reach ratio is a function of TV's ever-greying audiences; 36% of NBC's new Tuesday night drama "This Is Us" landed in the 18-to-49 age range, while a mere 18% of those who tuned in for the premiere of CBS's "Bull" were under 50 years of age. "Bull" fared slightly better in CBS's target demo, as 26% of the series opener's viewers were members of the 25-54 set.)

Elsewhere, NBC's "Blindspot" is facing an uphill climb in its new 8 p.m. slot, and while the 1.3 rating it delivered Wednesday night was up a tenth versus last season's "Mysteries of Laura" opener, that doesn't hold a candle to the 2.6 rating it delivered in its second episode leading out of "The Voice." (Last week, NBC gave the inked-up procedural an early jump, bowing it out of the "America's Got Talent" finale, where it posted a 1.5 rating.)

The rest of NBC's cops-and-criminals block was steady, as "Law & Order: SVU" was flat with a 1.8 and "Chicago P.D." was down a tick with a 1.6.

Over at CBS, "Survivor" was down a tenth with a 3.1 rating in the 25-to-54 demo, while summer behemoth "Big Brother" closed out another cycle with a 2.4.

Thursday's series premieres include Fox's hardball drama "Pitch," which toes the rubber after "Rosewood" at 9 p.m., and ABC's ""Notorious," which subs in for "Scandal" between returning stalwart "Grey's Anatomy" and third-year legal potboiler "How to Get Away with Murder."

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