ABC's 'The Catch' Starts Off Soft

Midseason Continues to Challenge

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Cleaned out: Mireille Enos stars in ABC's 'The Catch.'
Cleaned out: Mireille Enos stars in ABC's 'The Catch.' Credit: ABC

A rocky midseason just got even rockier for ABC, as its new Thursday night Shondaland drama "The Catch" premiered to below-average ratings.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, "The Catch" averaged 5.85 million viewers and a 1.2 rating in the target demo, which translates to around 1.52 million adults 18 to 49 years old. That marks a 37% decline from the 1.9 rating that time-slot predecessor "How to Get Away with Murder" averaged in its second season, and a 40% drop when compared to the year-ago series premiere of "American Crime" (2.0).

The half-hour ratings suggest that some viewers simply didn't stick around for the entire episode. The second half of the one-hour premiere delivered a 1.1 in the 18-to-49 demo, down 15% from the 1.3 it drew in the first 30 minutes.

Not helping matters was another subdued performance by lead-in "Scandal," which tied last week's series low with a 1.6 in the demo.

The diminishing returns delivered by the newer members of ABC's TGIT lineup -- "Scandal" ratings are down 23% versus last season and "Murder "has fallen 37% -- haven't had any impact on veteran series "Grey's Anatomy," which drew a solid 2.1 at 8 p.m. Now in its twelfth season, "Grey's" is ABC's No. 2 rated series, behind only "Modern Family."

The lukewarm reception afforded "The Catch" is symptomatic of the general (and rapid) deceleration of live TV viewing, a trend that has hit ABC harder than its competitors. With just eight weeks left before the 2015-16 broadcast season comes to a close, ABC is about to suffer its fourth last-place finish in five years. Through week 26, ABC is averaging a 1.9 in the 18-to-49 demo, down 14% versus its year-ago 2.2. It is one-half of a ratings point behind frontrunner CBS, which is flat with a 2.4. CBS is fending off NBC, down 12%, by a tenth. Fox ranks third with a 2.0, down 5%.

Midseason has been particularly arduous for ABC, as all four of the new series it introduced this month have labored in obscurity. The long-delayed biblical drama "Of Kings and Prophets" was yanked from the cursed Tuesday 10 p.m. post after just two episodes (the second installment drew a 0.5 in the demo), while the comedy "The Real O'Neals" is averaging a 1.0 in its Tuesday night time slot and the Sunday night potboiler "The Family" is limping by with a 0.8.

While midseason was once merely a repository for shows designed to fill in for the inevitable fall failures, broadcast's shift to shorter orders and gap scheduling has opened up the back half of the season to potential sleepers. But landing a hit in March is even tougher than establishing a beachhead in the fall; if nothing else, the onset of daylight savings time appears to coincide with a drop in HUT levels, industry argot for "Homes Using Television." If fewer people are watching live TV in the first place, and then even more churn away once the sun starts setting again at a reasonable hour, even the most clever marketing exec will face an uphill climb on the promotional front.

The last hit ABC launched in midseason was its supernatural drama "Resurrection," which bowed to a stellar 13.9 million viewers and a 3.8 in the demo on March 9, 2014. The eight-episode first-season arc went on to average 9.32 million viewers and a 2.5 rating, making it the season's third highest-rated new show behind NBC's "The Blacklist" and Fox's "Sleepy Hollow."

The show's glory was short-lived, however. After going on to average just 4.73 million viewers and a 1.3 rating in its second season, ABC pulled the plug on the spooky series.

Other recent midseason entries that quickly found an audience were Fox's "Empire," which in its second season remains broadcast's top-rated show (4.8), and NBC's "Chicago P.D." In fact, some of the most beloved TV shows of all time started life as midseason replacements; "All in the Family," "The Simpsons," "Happy Days" and "Dallas" all premiered in the latter half of the broadcast season.

While it remains to be seen how "The Catch" will fare in the coming weeks, for advertisers the pilot episode may not have been worth the price of admission. According to media buyers, a 30-second ad unit in "The Catch" fetched as much as $170,000 in the upfront, making it the second-most expensive new broadcast series behind NBC's "Blindspot."

"The Catch" attracted a broad range of advertisers from across the category spectrum. Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota repped automotive, while AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon turned out for the mobile category. Pharma was conspicuous, thanks to spots from Claritin, Nexium and Zyrtec, and DC Entertainment ("Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice") and Universal Pictures ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2") kept things lively for the studios. ABC also reserved time to promote upcoming installments of "Grey's Anatomy," "Quantico," "The Family" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

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