The first eight weeks of the fall TV season have come and gone. Naturally this is a time for deep self-contemplation on the part of television executives. Looking over the numbers for those first two months—known collectively as “sweeps”—a very strange pattern emerges. Turns out NBC finished No. 1 or tied for the No. 1 spot for seven out of those eight weeks. This marks the first time in 10 freaking years that NBC has been the top-rated network.
Season to date, NBC is up 18 percent in total viewers versus one year ago—jumping from 7.35 million to 8.67 million. That moves the network from the No. 4 slot last season to the No. 1 slot this season—the first time NBC has held that honor since “Friends” went off the air. So, to what does the Peacock Network owe such a proud distinction?
While NBC is up, the other big four networks (ABC, CBS, FOX) are down in ratings. Taking a snapshot of week eight ratings, CBS lost 7 percent of its total viewers from last year. ABC dropped 15 percent. And FOX shed an astonishing 27 percent. But it’s not all ennui that’s driving viewers back to NBC. The network’s “Sunday Night Football” telecast is the No. 1 prime-time show in total viewers every week. Admittedly, that’s a seasonal show and will disappear once the playoffs start. Still, viewers are viewers. Also topping the ratings is NBC’s singing competition “The Voice,” which has become the No. 1 unscripted series. This is a serious, demoralizing blow to FOX’s once-invulnerable “American Idol.”
All in all, NBC’s new fall lineup has been well received. Three of the top five new shows are NBC products. The post-apocalyptic drama “Revolution” is a solid hit, pulling in Nielsen averages of 4.6 points (meaning nearly 5 percent of the total number of TV-equipped households in America are watching). The Matthew Perry-led sitcom “Go On” is getting a 3.3, while its Tuesday night compatriot the “Modern Family”-esque, Ryan Murphy-produced “The New Normal” is clocking 2.7.
Now it just remains to be seen whether NBC can keep up that momentum. The network will be losing “The Voice” in a few weeks when a winner is crowned. It will return with a new season in March. At the same time, the network has made the bold decision to delay the second half of the first season of “Revolution” until March. A multi-month hiatus like that works fine for cable series such as “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead”—but it might not sit too well with fickle broadcast viewers.
Starting early next year, NBC will be forced to rely on its “midseason replacement” shows. The suspiciously “Revenge”-like soaper “Deception” bows on Jan. 7. The White House-based comedy “1600 Penn” (starring Bill Pullman and Jenna Elfman) shows up on Jan. 10. The pitchy musical drama “Smash” gets a second season on Feb. 5. The Internet-adored but ratings-challenged “Community” returns on Feb. 7. And the much-hyped “Hannibal”—a crime drama based on the life of young Hannibal Lecter—won’t hit until April at the earliest. That leaves the new No. 1 network in a very tenuous position. Whatever you do, NBC fans, don’t change that dial.