It’s been a weird fall television season, as we continue to adjust to the new reality of network TV: It no longer takes 10-12 million viewers to ensure renewal. In fact, if your show has the right amount of critical success, good buzz, and is watched enough on Hulu and the network website, it can get the plush post-Super Bowl spot with fewer than 4 million weekly Nielsen viewers. That’s an insane thought because just two or three years ago, those same ratings would’ve gotten a show cancelled before the third episode aired. Yet, that’s where we are with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, an incredibly low-rated sitcom that’s nevertheless a winner based on factors other than Nielsen ratings.
Indeed, the biggest hit of the fall, The Blacklist, gets around 12 million viewers a week, or what The Walking Dead fetches on cable, while several new shows are getting second season renewals based on ratings less than half of the viewers of, say, the cancelled-too-soon Sports Night several years ago. Moreover, thanks to network competition over certain new pilots which receive full-season orders sight unseen, a show like The Michael J. Fox Show will air its entire season, despite less than 3 million viewers a week (or, say, what a Friends rerun would fetch at 11:30 at night on TBS).
Only two shows this fall managed to hang on to most of their audiences from their debuts, The Blacklist and, somewhat surprisingly, Mom (even more surprising is the fact that the Chuck Lorre sitcom isn’t half bad). There are a few other “winners,” like The Crazy Ones and Agents of SHIELD, which fully lost HALF their audiences over the course of the season, and yet, still have enough viewers to justify second-season renewals. Sleepy Hollow is considered a huge success for Fox, though it has lost roughly 35 percent of its viewers since its debut, and the same can even be said of Almost Human, which has lost 1/3 of its viewers since its premiere.
But again, with the exception of two series, everything that debuted this fall has lost a significant amount of viewers. Check out the list of the new fall series, where they began, and where they ended up with their winter finales (ranked from most viewers to the least):
1. The Blacklist: 12.58 million in its debut; 11.67 million in its winter finale.
2. The Millers: 13.09 million in its debut; 9.23 million in last week’s episode (the winter finale ratings from last night aren’t in yet)
3. Mom: 7.99 million in its debut; 7.69 in its most recent episode (the winter finale airs Monday)
4. The Crazy Ones: 15.52 million in its debut; 7.58 million in its winter finale.
5. Sleepy Hollow: 10.10 million in its debut; 6.65 million in its winter finale.
6. Agents of SHIELD: 12.12 million in its debut; 6.11 million in its winter finale.
7. Almost Human: 9.18 million in its debut; 6.05 million in its most recent episode (the winter finale airs Monday)
8. Super Fun Night: 8.23 million in its debut; 5.37 million in its winter finale.
9. Hostages: 7.41 million in its debut; 4.69 million in its most recent episode (the winter finale airs on Monday)
10. The Goldbergs: 8.94 in its debut; 4.77 in its winter finale.
11. Brooklyn Nine Nine: 6.17 million in its debut; 3.66 million in its winter finale.
12. The Trophy Wife: 6.69 in its debut; 3.48 million in its winter finale.
13. Dads: 5.76 million in its debut; 3.35 in its winter finale.
14. Betrayal: 5.16 million in its debut; 3.05 million in its most recent episode (the season finale airs next week)
15. Sean Saves the World: 4.43 million in its debut; 2.99 million in its most recent episode (ratings not yet available for last night’s winter finale)
16. The Michael J. Fox Show: 7.50 million in its debut; 2.89 million in its most recent episode (ratings not yet available for last night’s winter finale)
We Are Men
Back in the Game
Welcome to the Family
Here’s one more interesting number: The highest rated new show of last season, Revolution, premiered with 11.65 million viewers. It’s most recent episode (in November) has less than half of that, with 5.37 million viewers.
These ratings do not include DVR viewers, which are not final for the winter finales, so — based on their past ratings — you can add around 3 million for Agents of SHIELD, 3.5 million for Sleepy Hollow, and six million for The Blacklist, one of the most DVR’d television shows in history. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, meanwhile, only adds around 1 million viewers per week with DVR, BUT (and this is a big BUT), it doubles its audience (to 8.3 million) with On Demand and Streaming viewing, which explains why Fox gave it the post-Super Bowl slot.