With the Olympics over, it was open season again this past week for the major broadcast and cable networks, which trotted out their next wave of midseason programming. For the most part, the shows performed solidly, even if at first glance that didn't seem to be the case.
Cable stays steady
Cable networks saw three established series make season debuts, and all shared a trait: year-to-year retention where it counts.
Dallas, which airs on TNT (a subsidiary of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX)), returned for its first full J.R.- less season with 2.7 million viewers, 950,000 of those from the all-important 18-49 demo. That's down from last year's premiere, which saw 2.9 million viewers and a 1.0 rating in the demo (and nowhere near the show's 2012 debut, which had 6.9 million viewers), but the numbers are on par with the show's average ratings from last season.
FX (a subsidiary of Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA)) saw a similar trend with its return of The Americans, though that was more of a shock to the system. The show bowed last year to 3.2 million viewers and a 1.6 in the demo, but fell sharply in its sophomore debut to 1.9 million viewers and only 860,000 coming from the demo.
While that may look alarming, it's not -- The Americans was one of the most-watched time-shifted shows on TV in 2013, and not counting those additional post-timeslot premiere numbers, it was about even with its final few episodes from its first season. Expect a big boost when those DVR/+7 numbers come in next week.
Lastly, The History Channel came ashore again with its hit drama Vikings and saw a total of 3.6 million viewers with a 1.7 in the demo. Again, while this is down significantly from the 6.2 million viewers and 2.5 demo it earned during its bow a year ago, it too returned to numbers on par with its final season episodes. More importantly the series held tight without the boffo ratings of The Bible mini-series as a lead-in. The Mark Burnett/Roma Downey event saw a heavenly 13.1 million viewers when it launched ahead of the show in 2013. In fact, Vikings is the third most successful cable drama on TV in the 18-49 demo behind The Walking Dead and American Horror Story: Coven.
Broadcast bounces back
The broadcast networks didn't have a bad week either, especially among established shows. On NBC (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA)), Chicago PD returned to 8 million viewers and a 2.2 in the demo, a 33% spike in viewers and a 29% jump in the demo from its last pre-Olympics episode. The Blacklist also saw a return to ratings form thanks to the new season of The Voice; it had 11.3 million viewers and a 3.1 in the demo, which is around where it was most of the fall. Without The Voice as a lead-in, Blacklist was pulling in under 10 million viewers and under a 3.0 in the demo, which was still strong, but not near its averages.
ABC (a subsidiary of Disney (NYSE:DIS)) and CBS (NYSE:CBS) also got in on the fun as both made tweaks to their schedules and saw solid results. ABC's tweak was more of a long-term adjustment as the network had decided to give three of its biggest shows a long holiday break, but saw encouraging numbers when two of them returned.
Despite not having aired a new episode since mid-December and being paired with a low-rated Oscar special as a lead-in, Grey's Anatomy and Scandal returned to 9.4 and 9.3 million viewers (respectively) with demos of 3.1 and 3.4. For Grey's that was up from its midseason finale (8.4 million viewers, 2.7 demo) and overall season average (8.7 million, 2.8 demo), while Scandal had similar luck, beating its midseason finale in the demo (3.2) and its overall season average in viewers and demo (9.1 million, 3.1). The third show in this experiment, Once Upon a Time returns next Sunday.
Meanwhile CBS switched Two and a Half Men and The Crazy Ones' Thursday night timeslots to allow for the night's three multi-camera shows (Big Bang Theory, The Millers, Men) to air consecutively as a lead-in for the single camera comedy fronted by Robin Williams. Men surged 32% in the demo with 10 million viewers, while Crazy had a modest 12% gain in the demo along with its 7.4 million viewers. While this may have negatively affected Elementary, which aired after and was handily beaten in the demo by Scandal, the move is being hailed as a success because it positively affected the comedies, which needed the most help.
Freshman mixed bag
The week also saw the premieres of four shows over two networks, with each going in a different direction. NBC's About a Boy and Growing up Fisher were supposed to air new episodes following special Olympics previews, but the network wisely decided to rerun the pilots to help lure viewers who missed their airings during the Games. Boy pulled the same amount of viewers (8.3 million) and was up in the demo a tenth of a point to a 2.3. Conversely, Fisher took a hit in both areas falling from 8.8 million viewers to an even 7 million, but only slightly going down two tenths in the demo from a 2.2 to a 2.0. The small drop in the 18-49 range should offset the larger drop in viewers. All in all it was a solid debut for the rookie comedies.
ABC was certainly not laughing though regarding its freshman series, which got destroyed. Mind Games bowed to 3.5 million viewers and a 1.1 in the demo, which was better than its predecessor Killer Women, which scored a 0.9, but had 400,000 fewer viewers, which has to sting a little bit. Mixology, meanwhile, pulled in 5.2 million viewers and a 1.7 in the demo, but had a low 58% retention rate out of the always reliable Modern Family. Over the last few years, four shows have aired in that post Modern slot and Mixology didn't top any of them in either stat category nor did it come close. That slot will likely join Tuesdays at 10 p.m. and Thursdays at 8 p.m. as the third timeframe the network will need to try and fix with its 2014-2015 slate.
Brett Gold owns shares of CBS. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.