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Network Television Drama Has a New Ratings Leader

By Dustin Rowles | TV | December 7, 2016 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | December 7, 2016 |

We don’t talk about ratings like we used to, mostly on account of them not mattering nearly as much as they once did. A TV series doesn’t need to have huge ratings anymore; it just needs a following, some critical adoration, and the potential for licensing on Hulu or Netflix or Amazon. As we’ve mentioned before, even with the ever-shrinking ratings of network television, advertisers will pay because it’s still the only game in town where you can reach one million viewers or more. You can’t get that kind of exposure on Buzzfeed, or Netflix (which doesn’t air commercials), a newspaper or a magazine. As bang for your buck goes, television is still king.

With that said, there are still some ratings monsters on television. The Walking Dead continues to lead on cable; Game of Thrones leads on premium cable (although, Westworld just had the highest rated freshman season ever for the network, surpassing Game of Thrones); and best we can tell, the most watched show on Netflix is … Fuller House.

Yeah. (It’s followed by Orange is the New Black).

Meanwhile, on broadcast television, the Big Bang Theory — despite some ratings attrition — still leads among comedies, followed by Modern Family, The Goldbergs, Black-ish and The Middle, proving that if you just keep a decent sitcom on the air long enough, an audience will find it (and then eventually start to abandon it around the fifth season).

However, it’s among network dramas where we’re seeing some movement. After two years on top, it looks like Empire is relinquishing its ratings crown to NBC’s freshman series, This Is Us, which has eked past Empire in the last couple of weeks.

It’s fitting, in the midst of this political climate, to seek out comfort, and that’s exactly what This Is Us offers. It’s melodramatic and sentimental and every episode leaves viewers misty. It’s not a “great” series, but I adore it. It fits under one of my favorite categories of television: Good people trying to make good choices (see also: Parenthood, Friday Night Lights, Gilmore Girls (kind of)). Mawkish writing notwithstanding, it also features really good performances from Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, and especially Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones. Also, Gerald McRaney seems like a lock for the guest actor Emmy.

Last night’s winter finale, by the way, was a real kick in the stomach.

If you’re wondering, behind This Is Us is Empire, followed by Grey’s Anatomy, freshman series Designated Survivor (a terrible show with a few bright spots) and How to Get Away with Murder.