Remember when there were actual seasons? Yeah, me too. You don’t have to be a codger to be aware that, once upon a time, winter gave way to mild weather and nature’s growth. Not flooding and grey skies.
Well, in the still-crazy broadcast TV racket, they still believe in seasons. Bless them. The 2018-19 season is now over, more or less. The numbers are in and they make for interesting reading. Like gas-guzzling cars, broadcast TV just keeps on going. But not everything old is still working – a way-interesting shift is the brakes slamming on the reboot phenomenon.
First thing to note, though, is that only one of the big four U.S. networks saw significant overall decline in viewers. That was ABC, which dropped average viewership by 8 per cent, but that can be explained perhaps by the outlet not having live NFL games during the season.
CBS remains the overall champ, with an average 8.94 million viewers (this is extrapolated from all shows over all nights over the entire season) and lost only a tiny fraction of the previous season’s total. NBC is in second at 7.21 million. The startling news is that Fox saw growth of 9 per cent, thanks to NFL games but also through new hit shows. It averaged 5.37 million viewers.
There are so many things that people in suits in L.A. will mine from these numbers. For instance, the desired demographic of adults aged 18-49 is not exactly CBS’s ace. In Canada, by the way, BellMedia, Rogers and Corus will inevitably claim some triumph with the U.S. shows they bought. Good luck with that.
But there are standout nuggets of real news from an overview of the broadcast season. What is the season’s biggest new sensation? Go on, I dare you to guess. It’s actually The Masked Singer – Fox’s gimmicky singing competition is officially the season’s biggest breakout hit. It’s the No. 1 new series among adults 18-49. Such were the viewing numbers that it sometimes matched This Is Us and The Big Bang Theory. Naturally, Fox is going to do two cycles of The Masked Singer in the 2019-20 season. One this fall and a second to premiere in the post-Super Bowl slot next winter.
Yes, while you and I were pondering our choices of genre-busting thrillers and searing, heartfelt dramas on Netflix and Amazon Prime, much of North America was in a total tizzy about masked singers. It truly is a crazy world.
An important addendum to that news is the decline of both The Voice and American Idol. Both shows saw substantial reduction in regular viewers for the performance and winner/loser episodes. Expect contestants to wear masks soon.
And, yes, another significant trend is the decline in popularity of rebooted shows.
NBC’s Will & Grace saw a huge loss in viewers, estimated at 46 per cent by The Hollywood Reporter. The revival of Murphy Brown had zero impact, although much-promoted, and was promptly cancelled after 13 episodes. This gives some context to CBC’s decision to revive Street Legal, a misguided decision. The reboot phenomenon was already waning when the show, less a reboot than a revision set in the contemporary period, arrived to disappointing ratings.
There was a rise in viewers for the Academy Awards. Also, CBS is probably pleased that the long-running Big Bang ended after 12 seasons with its series finale watched live by 18 million viewers. That number will increase when numbers are added for those who watched it later, but the finale number pales when compared with the 80 million watching the final episode of Cheers and the 76 million watching the last episode of Seinfeld. In Canada the end of Big Bang was seen live by 4.3 million people and that will probably reach five million when later viewing is added.
By the way, in the late-night arena, CBS has just said that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert won the late-night wars this season, beating The Tonight Show on NBC and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live every week there were new episodes.
The upshot is that broadcast TV has stopped bleeding numbers. But it relies on both comforting formulaic content – what CBS offers with its NCIS franchise and NBC provides with Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago PD – and gimmicks such as The Masked Singer. Keep in mind that while 18 million watched the end of The Big Bang Theory, the final episode of Game of Thrones, on premium cable, had 19.3 million viewers in the United States.
In another year, after new streaming services have launched, the big picture will be different. As ominous as another grey, overcast spring.