Two months into the new television season, there's big ratings news: The NFL is back!
Then there's ... everything else.
Viewership for entertainment programming on the broadcast networks continues to fall as audiences flock to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Among adults under the age of 50, the number of viewers for network shows has tumbled an additional 10 percent this season.
Medical dramas have made a comeback, reboots and reality shows have lost some of their luster, a veteran producer has proved his mettle yet again and a new front in the late-night wars has opened between Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon.
Oh, and football. Viewers still can't get enough, which has come as a relief to network executives.
Even with the internal upheaval and the continued migration of viewers to streaming services and premium cable outlets, the networks can still point to one sign of relevance: Their collective audience, while shrinking, is still huge. With several prime-time series moving into midseason hiatus, let's look at the highlights and lowlights so far.
NO SURE BET
The good news for the Murphy Brown revival on CBS? Its audience is stable.
That's about it.
The reboot of the classic sitcom has largely been a ratings dud. In the 18-49 age bracket, Murphy Brown ranks 43rd among entertainment programs, drawing roughly the same number of viewers as The Cool Kids, a Friday night comedy on Fox about retirees.
The show, which returned Candice Bergen to a role she inhabited through much of the 1990s, faced several built-in challenges. Many of its stars had been off the air for more than a decade, and episodes from its original run, which ended in 1998, are not available online, meaning it had not been able to cultivate a new audience.
Perhaps more importantly, the series has failed to generate the kind of buzz it had in the days when Vice President Dan Quayle attacked it for "mocking the importance of fathers" after the title character gave birth to a boy in the 1992 season finale.
Networks have employed the reboot strategy in recent years as a way to give viewers shows that are at once new and familiar. But as the tactic has lost its novelty, it has become less of a sure thing.
Magnum P.I. -- which returned to CBS with stubble-faced Jay Hernandez taking over the role once played by mustachioed Tom Selleck -- is performing at about the same level as Murphy Brown. And Will & Grace, the groundbreaking sitcom that NBC brought back with much fanfare in 2017, has lost more than half its audience from a year ago.
Fox has seen solid returns from Last Man Standing, a comedy starring Tim Allen that was revived this season after it was canceled by ABC in May 2017. And even without Roseanne Barr, The Conners has done OK for ABC, generating numbers that suggest it is a sustainable draw. Through five episodes, its ratings are on a par with the CBS hit Young Sheldon, good enough for seventh place among entertainment programs. It is also ABC's highest-rated sitcom.
LATE NIGHT BATTLE
The audience for late night is smaller than that of prime time, but the battle between The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on CBS and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on NBC is perhaps fiercer than ever.
Viewers made their decision on which of the two late-night leaders they preferred in the opening weeks of the Trump administration, when Colbert, whose monologues regularly skewer the president, leapfrogged the fun-and-games-minded Fallon in total audience. Colbert has since become the runaway winner, typically leading his main rival by more than 1 million viewers a night. Colbert has lately cut that lead to a mere 1,000 viewers.
But while the CBS show was on the rise, The Tonight Show managed to cling to something valuable: A lead in the 18-49 age bracket prized by advertisers.
One thing that is almost totally absent among television's top-rated series: reality programming.
Barely squeaking into the top 10 is The Voice, the NBC singing competition whose numbers have slid. Dancing With the Stars has stumbled for ABC, down more than 31 percent this year. Add in a loss of 33 percent in the audience for NBC's Shark Tank, and you have a trend that is keeping producers of unscripted television awake at night.
The biggest bomb was an ABC talk show hosted by Alec Baldwin, which seems headed toward cancellation. The network moved it from Sunday to the prime-time boneyard of Saturday night.
There will be some attempts to reverse the trend. NBC plans to air a summertime hit, America's Got Talent, in January, to see if its success can be replicated. Survivor keeps chugging away on CBS and will be back in the spring.
CBS will also debut The World's Best, a talent competition show from reality TV masterminds Mark Burnett and Mike Darnell, immediately after the broadcast of the Super Bowl in February. Darnell, who oversaw American Idol at Fox, is confident that the genre has not worn out its welcome.
"You can still get a big smash hit," Darnell said.
At this point, the results may suggest otherwise.
A notable development: One of television's sturdiest genres, the medical drama, is resonating anew. In addition to NBC's New Amsterdam, ABC has two medical shows, Grey's Anatomy and The Good Doctor, among the ratings leaders. That trend will not be lost om network executives, said Preston Beckman, a former executive at NBC and Fox.
"There's a very quiet, subtle increase in medical dramas," he said. "And you'll see more of them. Everybody is getting a little bit away from the procedurals. And everything's a trend. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery in television."
Style on 12/04/2018
Print Headline: Reboots, reality shows sinking; football is back