Broadcast TV's slavish adherence to the rhythms of the calendar can make for a whole lot of deadly summer programming, and if the ratings are any indication, it appears that America's tolerance for hastily revived game shows and lazily construed ripoffs of existing competition-series formats is at low ebb.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the networks may have been better served if they'd simply hung up a "Gone Fishin'" sign and flooded their summer schedules with a torrent of repeats. Midway through the 18-week sweaty season, only six broadcast shows are averaging north of a 1.0 rating in the adults 18-to-49 demo, and just one series (ABC's "To Tell the Truth" reboot) is currently out-performing its year-ago ratings. Meanwhile, the summer scripted-series revival that was heralded a few years ago by the remarkable success of CBS's "Under the Dome" is deader than the diplodocus, as the Big Four's slate of 15 dog-days productions and burnoffs is sputtering along with an average draw of a 0.4 in the demo, which works out to a little more than 515,000 adults 18 to 49.
As is the case with the fall TV season, the summer schedule features a few outliers that are more than happy to kick sand in the faces of the 98-pound weaklings cluttering up the broadcast beach. Now in its 13th season, NBC's "America's Got Talent" remains the solstice's ratings champ, beating all comers with an average draw of 11.6 million viewers and a 2.2 rating in the target demo, good for some 2.8 million adults 18 to 49. No other show comes anywhere near "America's Got Talent" in the summer ratings race; trailing the million-dollar competition series are CBS's "Big Brother," ABC's "The Bachelorette" and "Talent" lead-out "World of Dance," all of which are now averaging a 1.4 in adults under 50.
If "Talent" deliveries have slipped somewhat compared to its year-ago performance—at this time in 2017, the show was averaging 12.6 million viewers and a 2.6 in the dollar demo—its advertisers can't be terribly discouraged by what amounts to a 15 percent decline in targeted viewers. Put it this way: If you were to transfer the show's demo deliveries to the regular season, "Talent" would rank fourth among all non-NFL broadcast programs, trailing only the now defunct "Roseanne" (3.5), "The Big Bang Theory" (2.7) and NBC's own "This Is Us" (2.7).
While "Talent" does reach a crowd that is a bit long in the tooth (season-to-date, the median age of the viewers who watch the show is just shy of 59 years old), it also boasts the sort of multi-generational appeal that ensures a decent turnout of younger fans. In each of the eight nights it has aired thus far this summer "Talent" has earned bragging rights as network TV's top draw among the 18-to-34 set, and is the only show that averages more than 1 million members of that particular demo week in and week out.
This will mark the fourth straight season in which "Talent" will finish out the summer as the season's top-rated show—or the fifth if you factor in its 2014 performance, when it tied "Big Brother" for the lead. Perhaps no advertiser has reaped the benefits of the "Talent" winning streak more than Dunkin' Donuts; now in its fourth season as an integrated sponsor of the show, the brand this summer has generated some 125.2 million impressions via "Talent," according to iSpot.tv estimates, making it the show's most visible partner.
Other big "Talent" backers are T-Mobile, Universal Pictures ("Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again," "Skyscraper"), AT&T, Progressive, Verizon, Jeep, Sprint, Columbia Pictures ("Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation," "The Equalizer 2") and Chevrolet.
Promos only do so much
NBC naturally reserves a fair amount of "Talent" inventory to promote some of its other programming, although all those engaged eyeballs hasn't seemed to convince many viewers to sample the likes of "Marlon," "Reverie" and a slumping "American Ninja Warrior." The half-hour comedy "Marlon" closed out its second season with an average draw of 2.64 million viewers and a 0.6 rating, and while that was robust enough to make it the summer's highest-rated scripted series, the show lost 2 million viewers and was down 45 percent in the demo compared to its first season.
Meanwhile, the nine promos for "Reverie" that have aired in "Talent" commercial breaks don't seem to have done much to improve that show's future prospects. Per Nielsen, the freshman techno thriller is averaging just 2.12 million viewers and a 0.5 in the demo. Also not making the most of the additional exposure afforded by "Talent" is the veteran series "American Ninja Warrior," which midway through its 10th season finds itself down 27 percent in the demo.
If the "Ninja" declines have been rather steep—the demo has dropped nearly 40 percent since 2016—in absolute terms, the show is in relatively good shape with an average draw of a 1.1 rating. Certainly it's doing well enough to justify the existence of Mark Burnett's "TKO: Total Knockout," a new obstacle-course challenge hosted by Kevin Hart that is basically a mash-up of "Ninja," the old "American Gladiators" template and Chuck Jones' "Road Runner." ("TKO" contestants spend a good amount of their screen time trying not to get clobbered by cartoonishly oversized mallets.)
If "TKO" appears to borrow heavily from "Ninja," it hasn't been able to copy the older show's ratings sheet. After bowing July 11 to nearly 4 million viewers, an 0.9 18-to-49 rating and a 1.2 in CBS's target demo (adults 25 to 54), Wednesday night's installment of "TKO" drew 2.71 million viewers, an 0.6 18-to-49 rating and a 0.9 where it matters most at CBS.
Among the series that have wilted in the summer heat are NBC's "Running Wild with Bear Grylls," which has fallen 44 percent in the target demo to a 0.6; Fox's "Love Connection," down 37 percent to a 0.5; the CBS drama "Salvation," which has dropped 33 percent among adults 25 to 54 (0.6) and ABC's "The Gong Show," tumbling 29 percent to a 0.5 in the 18-to-49 demo.
Commercial ratings dive
Second-quarter C3 ratings, which include the first six weeks of summer TV deliveries, were down 13 percent year-over-year, as the Big Four nets averaged a 0.9 in the currency, good for about 1.16 million adults 18-49. NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox together suffered a 28 percent drop in the all-important C3 demo ratings when their collective second quarter deliveries were held up against the analogous period in 2016.
The 2018-19 broadcast season officially begins on Monday, Sept. 24, although TV's biggest primetime draw will launch well in advance of that date. Season 13 of NBC's "Sunday Night Football" bows Thursday, Sept. 6, with an all-avian NFL Kickoff Game duel between the Atlanta Falcons and defending Super Bowl champs Philadelphia Eagles. Three nights later, the first Sunday night game of the year gets underway as the Green Bay Packers host their NFC North rivals Chicago Bears.