Shortage of scripted programs deals a lackluster start to the prime-time TV season

Doug Jones, left, Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh in a scene from “Star Trek: Discovery” on CBS.
“Star Trek: Discovery” didn’t give CBS the big boost in its ratings. Doug Jones, left, Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh star.
(Jan Thijs / CBS)

The combined viewership of the four major broadcast networks for the opening week of the prime-time television season was down 36.4% from last year mainly due to the unavailability of new episodes of scripted programs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CBS had the biggest decrease, dropping 60.6% from 6.9 million to 2.72 million, according to live-plus-same-day figures released by Nielsen on Tuesday.

In addition to first-run scripted programming, CBS also didn’t have an NFL runover this year. Its 46-minute runover during the opening week of the 2019-20 season averaged 21.379 million viewers.

Fox decreased 32.8% from 5.79 million for 17 hours of prime-time programming to 3.89 million for 15 hours, eight minutes of prime-time programming. NBC dropped 27.1% from 7.5 million to 5.47 million. ABC was down 19.5% from 4.72 million to 3.8 million.


The absence of an NFL game on Thursday was another factor in Fox’s decline. Its “Thursday Night Football” game on the opening week of the 2019-20 season between the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles averaged 17.905 million viewers, second for the week.

However, Fox did have a 58-minute runover of its afternoon NFL coverage in prime time in the Eastern and Central time zones that averaged 24.03 million viewers. Fox’s eight-minute NFL postgame show that followed the runover averaged 14.44 million viewers, third for the week behind NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and the combined viewership for ABC and ESPN’s simulcast of the New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders “Monday Night Football” game.

ABC had the smallest decline, thanks to the average of 8 million viewers who watched its portion of the simulcast. It was the first time ABC broadcast a “Monday Night Football” game since Dec. 26, 2005.

NBC, ABC and CBS each broadcast 22 hours of prime-time programming.

There was generally a lackluster response to programming acquired by Fox and CBS to fill the gaps caused by the absence of first-run scripted programming.

The crime drama “L.A.’s Finest,” which originally aired on the Spectrum Originals service for Spectrum cable subscribers, averaged 3.05 million viewers in its Fox debut, 58th for the week, 49th among non-NFL programs, 20th among entertainment programs and fourth in its 8-9 p.m. time slot Sept. 21.

Another Spectrum Originals series, “Manhunt: Deadly Games,” about the search for the Centennial Olympic Park bomber, averaged 1.58 million for its CBS premiere in the 10-11 p.m. time slot Sept. 21, 62nd among broadcast programs. Its overall rank was not available.


Back-to-back episodes of the space documentary “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” averaged 1.62 million viewers and 1.52 million from 8-10 p.m. Sept. 22, 59th and 65th among broadcast programs. Overall rankings were not available for the programs that aired on cable’s National Geographic channel earlier this year.

The first episode of the CBS All Access science fiction series “Star Trek: Discovery” that initially aired on CBS on Sept. 24, 2017, averaged 1.70 million viewers last Thursday on CBS, 58th among broadcast programs.

However, nearly two-thirds of viewers stayed tuned to NBC for the fourth episode of “Transplant” following “America’s Got Talent.” The Canadian medical drama averaged 3.82 million viewers, 40th for the week, 31st among non-NFL programs, 13th among entertainment programs and second its 10-11 p.m. time slot Sept. 22 behind TNT’s coverage of Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Denver Nuggets.

Viewership was 62% of the 6.57-million average for the next-to-last “America’s Got Talent” episode that preceded it, which was the week’s eighth most-watched program, third among non-NFL programs and second among entertainment programs.

The premiere of the Fox game show “I Can See Your Voice,” averaged 4.57 million viewers, 25th for the week, 16th among non-NFL programs seventh among entertainment programs and fourth in its 9-10 p.m. time slot. It retained 77.2% of the audience of “The Masked Singer,” which preceded it.

The week’s other premiere, Fox’s Southern Gothic family soap opera “Filthy Rich,” averaged 3.03 million viewers, 61st for the week, 52nd among non-NFL programs, 22nd among entertainment programs and fourth in its 9-10 p.m. time slot Sept. 21.

NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” was the top-rated program for the second consecutive week, averaging 17.8 million viewers for the Green Bay Packers’ 37-30 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

For the third time in the three-week old NFL season, “60 Minutes” was the week’s highest rated non-NFL program, averaging 7.56 million viewers, finishing sixth overall.

The season finale of “America’s Got Talent” was the week’s top ranked entertainment program, averaging 6.57 million viewers, seventh overall and second among non-NFL programs.

Fox News Channel won the cable network race for the 35th time in 36 weeks, averaging 3.73 million viewers. ESPN was second for the second consecutive week, averaging 2.91 million and MSNBC third, averaging 1.9 million.