'Empire' falls, 'This is Us' blossoms: Winners and losers of TV season

The 2016-17 TV season ended last week, and it was not an especially pretty one.  As online streaming climbed, traditional TV ratings fell on much of broadcast and cable, even with delayed and on-demand viewing counted. Highlights and lowlights:

This is Us. The season's breakout drama averaged nearly 15 million viewers, and was by far the biggest new series among young adults. Its emotional, heavily serialized storylines, about three siblings who share a birthday and (in flashbacks), their 1980s-era parents, was unlike most network TV. Fans caught on, and caught up: Comcast, which owns NBC, says the series smashed video-on-demand records in homes it serves with 38 million views, eclipsing the 23 million that Fox's Empire had for its first season. (Us aired 18 episodes, however, to Empire's 12).

Bull.  Despite competing against Us, CBS drama Bull, led by former NCIS star Michael Weatherly, narrowly eclipsed it as the season's most-watched newcomer with 15.5 million viewers, and the network's Kevin Can Wait was the top new comedy.


Stephen Colbert. Donald Trump (and a new producer) gave Late Show With Stephen Colbert a boost from those looking for laughs at the president's expense. In his second season, Colbert jumped 11%, adding about 300,000 viewers, and narrowly took the total-viewer crown from NBC's perennial leader, Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show, which lost about 600,000.  ABC's third-place Jimmy Kimmel Live also lost ground.

Timeless. NBC's freshman drama traveled through time and, helped by fan support (it was the top pick in USA TODAY's Save Our Shows poll) and a more financially attractive deal, led NBC to renew it for next year only days after canceling the series.

Bright spots.  Most shows shed viewers the longer they stay on the air. But a few scripted series actually won more: CBS stalwarts NCIS: Los Angeles (up 12% on a new night), Hawaii Five-0 (+9%) and Blue Bloods (+8%). Among young-adult viewers, ABC's The Bachelor managed to grow 3%.

Depleted survivors. Plenty of returning shows took ratings tumbles this season; many were canceled as a result. But some with troubling declines were spared the ax, anyway. Among them: NBC's Blindspot (down 35%), thanks to a pricetag cut; ABC's Quantico, which plunged 42% and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (-27%), both owned by the network; and Fox's no-longer-red-hot Empire, off a steep 36%. On cable, AMC's The Walking Dead lost 20% of its young-adult audience this spring but remains (by far) TV's top series among that crowd.

Football punts. The NFL's Sunday, Monday and Thursday games all declined, though alarming early-fall drops moderated later in the season. Networks blamed blowout games and weaker matchups, but perhaps there were just too many games fighting for attention. And yet NBC's Sunday Night Football remains prime time's top-rated program.

Tale of two CW shows. The smaller network, which gets a disproportionate share of its viewers online, had good news on TV anyway with Jane the Virgin, which got a 17% boost in young-adult viewers (and 6% overall) thanks to new Monday lead-in Supergirl. But its former companion, similarly praised Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, dropped 25% and  27%, respectively, after it was shunted to Fridays.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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