Welcome back to the internet's foremost power rankings! It's been a month since we've done one of these, so here's a quick refresher: Using a complicated methodology including ratings (Nielsen overnights, DVR numbers), business matters (pilot orders, scheduling, personnel decisions), buzz (social media, "viral" moments, other goodwill), and quality (good shows, episodes), I evaluate the performance of an ever-changing variety of TV networks based on what they've been up to recently.
Last time we convened, HBO and AMC continued their fairly regular domination of the power rankings thanks to Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and some impressive ratings and buzz. That isn't the case this time. The reason we posponed this round is that so many fascinating things were happening in the middle part of May: the Upfronts, renewals and cancellations, big finales, etc. The end of the season is an incredibly busy time for the networks, which makes for the most competitive power rankings that we've compiled thus far. A number of networks were in the running for the top spot, and the original list of networks I considered was close to 20. Not all of them made the final cut, of course, but I did an extra spot this time around. Let's get to it.
1. CBS (previous rank: 5)
Reese was clearly very emotional after receiving the good news.
Probably no surprise here. CBS finished the 2012-2013 season at the top of both the 18-49 demographic and total viewership rankings. The latter victory was basically a given for the network, but the former went to the Eye for the first time since 1991-1992. Although CBS's ratings declined three percent in the 18-49 demo, that figure is relative to much larger declines for all the other major competitors on broadcast. Meanwhile, the network's overall viewership and 18-34 ratings both increased, which means it's getting more popular with some younger folks at the same time. Ten of the top 25 and 13 of the top 30 shows in the 18-49 demographic belonged to CBS this year—that's literally the best news a network could ask for.
Because of all these triumphs, CBS didn't have to do a whole lot to its schedule for 2013-2014, but as always, the network made some moderately surprising choices that will probably assure continued domination in the foreseeable future. We suspected its extended Thursday-night comedy block was coming, but that won't make it any less effective in destroying whatever remaining hold NBC's comedies might have on that night. More comedy means Person of Interest has to shift to Tuesdays at 10pm, but the move should allow the network to clean up what has been a weirdly troublesome timeslot for it over the last handful of years.
Neither of the network's more serialized new dramas (Hostages and Intelligence) looks exceptional, but they seem CBS-y enough to thrive in the network's push to experiment both with high-concept programming and shortened seasons (don't ever say CBS doesn't try to change with the times!). And while the new comedies don't look particularly good, one of them is bound to hit (it's likely going to be Mom); even if something fails, the network has Mike & Molly on the bench. We might not like it, but nothing about CBS's 2012-2013 performance or its 2013-2014 schedule suggests that there's any real substantive competition out there.
Finally, the Survivor finale capped off what was generally an enjoyable season (after a rough start). And based on my TV.com colleagues' reviews of Elementary, Person of Interest, and The Big Bang Theory, I'd say that those shows ended on high notes that will keep the huge swaths of viewers coming back in the fall. (Full disclosure: CBS is the parent company of TV.com.)
2. NBC (previous rank: 8)
NBC had a pretty rough go between January and May, but the end of the full television season allows us to look back a little more fondly on what the network accomplished—most notably, FOOTBALL. Sunday Night Football was the highest-rated show of the season, which is not surprising in any way. NBC also deserves credit for keeping The Voice's momentum alive despite expanding it to two cycles per season. The singing competition ended up third and fifth overall in the important 18-49 demographic, giving NBC three of the top five highest-rated shows. The Peacock might be top-heavy (the football pre-game show and Revolution, buoyed by The Voice and its early fall successes, were the only other NBC shows to appear in the top 35), but those numbers don't lie. And here's some more good news for NBC: Overall, its 18-49 demo rating only dropped four percent in 2012-2013, which is second best to CBS (yes, at this point it's all about who declines the least, not who improves the most). And it's important to remember that NBC's 2011-2012 ratings included the Super Bowl, so NBC actually improved this year.
This all sets up a 2013-2014 schedule that makes quite a bit of sense. I still think there might've been some value in shifting The Voice to later in the week in hopes of gouging Fox's struggling singing competitions, but NBC made a smart move in using the show to try to build up Chicago Fire, which grew into a nice little show over the course of the season and performed well on its own in the Wednesdays-at-10pm slot. Having The Voice as a lead-in should only pump up Chicago Fire's broad appeal, which could give the network a big drama series to build around. That unfortunately means moving Parenthood to 10pm on Thursday, but that show's pairing with Michael J. Fox's new comedy seems like a solid fit in NBC's attempts to return to more family-friendly programming. I also like the move toward more scripted programming on Sundays once football is over; the run of Dateline, Celebrity Apprentice, and whatever else has gone on for far too long. (That doesn't mean that Crisis or Believe look any good, however.)
One important thing about NBC: The network has a number of pretty solid shows right now. In addition to Chicago Fire and Parenthood, Grimm and Hannibal are two of the more beloved broadcast dramas with active fans (Hannibal might be the best at the moment; thank goodness it was renewed for Season 2). I'm not pretending that NBC doesn't have holes—the network canceled a lot of shows that I assumed it would bring back, just because it needed content—but it's notched some nice successes to build on for next season.
Oh, and I guess we can't ignore the Dan Harmon-returning-to-Community stuff, huh? I still can't believe that that actually happened!
3. HBO (previous rank: 1)
It's difficult for me to drop HBO too far, even with the broadcast networks grabbing most of the headlines with their finales, new fall schedules, and fancy parties in New York City. This season of Game of Thrones continues to pull in fantastic live ratings. Aside from TNT and ESPN's coverage of the NBA playoffs, GoT was the highest-rated show on all of cable (not just pay cable) for most of May, and of course, the show is concurrently doing well on social media, especially after Sunday's emotional and bloody "The Rains of Castamere." And while HBO didn't air a new episode of GoT over Memorial Day weekend, the pay cable giant slotted in Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra and scored the highest numbers for a HBO original film in nearly a decade. The movie also garnered some of the best reviews for a HBO original film in probably even longer. Meanwhile, despite unimpressive ratings, The Family Tree gives HBO another solid, interesting "comedy" to boast about.
Finally—and unsurprisingly—HBO leads the Critic's Choice nominations with 21, including series nominations for Veep and Game of Thrones. Throw in a pick-up for a Mike Judge comedy and a ridiculous trailer for what will absolutely be another ridiculous season of True Blood and HBO had itself another impressive month.
4. ABC (previous rank: N/A)
For all the jokes we've all made about NBC, ABC finished (un)comfortably in fourth place this season, and almost all of its new shows failed or were at least justifiably canceled. The Once Upon a Time + Revenge pairing didn't totally work on Sundays, Modern Family took a little bit of a dip in the ratings, and one tentpole drama series after another (Last Resort, 666 Park Avenue, Red Widow) failed to catch on with audiences or network executives (weirdly, 666 finished the season with higher ratings than Nashville and The Neighbors, but ABC apparently never considered bringing it back).
Of course, Modern Family still remains one of the top five most-watched shows on television, and Grey's Anatomy remains one of the top 10. And this season, Scandal grew into THE story of the broadcast networks, growing in profile thanks to audacious storytelling and Twitter. So, almost like always at this point, ABC has a bunch of pretty good shows that people like (both on and off social media), only some of which are actually popular (R.I.P. Happy Endings) and then a lot of crap that really no one wants any part of (sorry, Reba).
And also almost like always, ABC is looking at another weird schedule. Its 2013-2014 lineup offers some large opportunities for ABC to make up ground on its competitors (Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Goldbergs, if buzz is to be believed), but also features shows that seemed destined to tank (Betrayal, and if we're being honest, Super Fun Night), plus a few mind-boggling scheduling choices (deciding not to air the Once Upon a Time in Wonderland spin-off during the original show's winter break). ABC always seems to hoard mediocre new shows for the midseason, and this year the crop appears especially troubled, from Mixology to Killer Women. But it might not matter. If S.H.I.E.L.D. is as big as ABC hopes it can be, it will improve Tuesday (long a problem spot) and bring the entire network along with it.
5. Fox (previous rank: N/A)
I'm not totally sure what to make of Fox's 2013-2014 schedule. The just-concluded season wasn't kind to the network that has traditionally dominated the important audience demographics; someone other than Fox (CBS) topped the 18-49 ratings for the first time in years. For one thing, American Idol's ratings straight-up cratered this season, dropping more than 25 percent over the already weakened figures from 2011-2012. Erosion is logical, but Idol is in trouble, and it's unclear whether a judges panel made up of former contestants can save it now. Combine Idol's poor performance with another disappointing year of X Factor, a weak showing in the ratings for the network's Tuesday comedy block, and a lack of drama productions in the wings, and we have ourselves a pretty porous season. Yet, Fox still finished in second place in the important ratings categories.
The better news is that some of the choices Fox made for next season do make sense. The network has a healthy number of drama pilots in the bank, which means it shouldn't have to face another situation like The Mob Doctor, where a show is dead in week two but continues to air for another three months because the network has nothing to replace it with. Based on the creative team and short trailer alone—which isn't much—Almost Human is one of the more interesting-looking new offerings across all the networks. Of course, Sleepy Hollow looks to be the opposite of that, while "Lawyer House" buzz about Rake couldn't have been more apt—and not in a good way. And because Fox always has so much weird scheduling to contend with because of the World Series and its competitors' time-killing singing competitions, somewhat intriguing shows like Gang Related and Us and Them are stuck on the bench with no premiere date, and Bones, Raising Hope, and Enlisted are all slotted in for Fridays even though I can't imagine they'll actually air there (what ever will Gordon Ramsey do?).
The news that Fox is resurrecting 24 almost makes up for all of this, except that 24 wasn't particularly good for much of its final three seasons. More than any other network, Fox's schedule is an enigma. If the schedule isn't hampered by sports and a few of the network's new shows come together, they'll be fine come next season, even with more Idol deterioration. But if some of the weirder elements combine with poor reception for the freshmen series, things could also get worse, and quick.
Finale-wise, Fox did fine. The New Girl and Mindy finales were fine. The Idol finale was fine. I thought The Following finale was pretty tepid, but fans of the show seemed to enjoy it. People were talking about The Following and New Girl on social media, which is good news considering those are the shows the network is trying to build around.
6. The CW (previous rank: 10)
Upfront-wise, The CW didn't offer us too many surprises, but after years of head-scratching decisions, made some some logical choices and has some solid-looking new offerings. The network has enough confidence in The Originals that the Vampire Diaries spin-off gets to anchor its own night on Tuesdays, which also signals that the network sees something in Reign (which will fill the post-TVD timeslot on Thursdays). The Originals is more likely to work in the longterm, but I applaud The CW for not simply scheduling the spin-off right behind its source. The Tomorrow People and The 100 look compelling enough, and if we're all just going to pretend that Matt Lanter looks like a high school student (alien DNA aside), I guess I can invest in at least a few episodes of Star-Crossed. What's clear from The CW's new schedule is that the soapy melodramas about rich, pretty white people are out, and high-concept supernatural or sci-fi dramas about pretty white people (financial status TBD) are in. I welcome that transition. But with all that being said, the thing I'm most satisfied with here is that The Carrie Diaries is returning, weird Friday timeslot or not.
On the finale front, The CW shows I watch delivered relatively satisfying conclusions. Arrow's was borderline great, Supernatural's featured some powerful Winchester Brothers moments, and Nikita's set up the final string of episodes very well. I'm still wary of some of the developments on The Vampire Diaries, but that finale was at least fast-paced and full of compelling twists. Along the way, The CW continued to rack up lots of social media buzz. And while the network is never going to challenge the big four in the traditional ratings battles, it had to be happy to learn that its total viewership increased four percent over 2011-2012.
7. AMC (previous rank: 2)
AMC takes a tumble this go-around because of the busy business happening all around them, and because right now, the network's status stems from Mad Men and very little else. But to be fair, this season of Mad Men is perhaps its most fascinating and buzzworthy yet. The last four episodes have certainly run the gamut in terms of quality, yet they were all equally intriguing in different ways. A few weeks ago, a Dr. Feelgood avatar juiced the office full of a super-vitamin, resulting in the most kinetic and surreal episode in the show's run. Then Betty got her groove back, sirens were blaring everywhere, and Peggy stabbed her longtime boyfriend in the gut, only to get dumped for other reasons. And then Pete smoked pot in slow motion. The people who say nothing happens on Mad Men don't have much of argument this season. We certainly can't gloss over the string of bizarre internet theories pumping up the show's imprint on the conversation. Is Megan Draper a Sharon Tate stand-in, bound to get murdered in the middle of the big NYC crime wave? And who the hell is Bob Freaking Benson: Run-of-the-mill sociopath? FBI agent? Don's long-lost son resulting from the recently-seen "encounter" with the prostitute? The show also continues to do well on social media, which is no surprise considering everyone can't wait to talk about Bob Benson's short shorts and his probable victims.
Little else happening at AMC right now, but The Killing returned this weekend, something that could be very important to some of you (the ratings were just about even with last season's premiere). I'm on record as saying that the trailers and clips make this season look dramatically better than just about anything after the fifth episode of Season 1, and Noel liked the premiere well enough, so my optimism is high.
8. A&E (previous rank: 7)
Duck Dynasty might be on hiatus at the moment, but A&E continues to thrive thanks to a few scripted successes. Bates Motel ended up being one of the higher-rated cable debuts of the year, and seemed to pick up credibility with certain segments of the critical community as the season progressed. It will be back for another season, and I'd wager that a summer and fall's worth of word of mouth will help boost the show even more. Longmire and The Glades just returned, both to pretty solid ratings despite their Memorial Day premieres and moderately challenging competition. It's sort of weird to me, but somehow Longmire was one of the most checked-into shows on GetGlue last week. None of these series bring in the same kind of numbers that Duck Dynasty does, but they help solidify A&E as a place for average-to-above-average scripted content, which holds weight for industry perceptions.
9. TNT (previous rank: 11)
You folks know that I respect cable networks that consistently accrue big ratings. TNT has accomplished that in recent weeks thanks to its coverage of the NBA playoffs. Over the last three weeks, at least three of the top nine or 10 cable airings of the week have been TNT-aired playoff games. Game 4 between the Heat and Pacers scored a substantial 8.1 million viewers and was the most-watched show on all of television that night. Sports are admittedly a different animal from most of the productions I typically mention here in the power rankings or what we talk about on TV.com, but highly watched coverage like this helps TNT pay for some of the scripted and unscripted shows we enjoy (unfortunately, one of those shows won't be Southland, which the channel canceled since the last time we checked in). Plus, TNT's NBA coverage is the best in the business. They've won multiple Emmys for their work, and deservedly so.
TNT also made some noise of their own during the week of the broadcast Upfronts by announcing development plans featuring a slew of shows that have some potential but are so far off from making it to air that it's misguided to even get remotely invested in them. The most interesting part of that news dump is that both TNT and its sister network TBS announced 24/7 live streaming through smartphone and tablet apps. This is pretty big news, and I will be interested to see what, if any, other cable channels follow suit in the future.
10. Showtime (previous rank: N/A)
Showtime has been absent from the power rankings for a good chunk of time now due to its light schedule of originals. That's going to change come June with the premieres of the final season of Dexter and the first season of Ray Donovan, along with all the Emmy buzz that will start to percolate come June and July. Still, I felt like it was worthwhile to give the cable channel a little love here near the end of the rankings for the current runs of The Borgais, Nurse Jackie, and the just-completed The Big C. I'm not an avid watcher of any of those three, but I've heard some good things, particularly about Big C's final stretch of episodes. However, bummer for Borgais fans that there will likely not be a fourth season (I guess the show's solid social media presence didn't hold enough water with channel executives). Plus, that trailer for the final season of Dexter is really, really good, and it's getting me amped for the show's early return in late June.
11. BBC America (previous rank: N/A)
I also felt it worthwhile to throw a little love toward BBC America. The channel doesn't have a whole lot of original programming that garners mainstream attention, but the spring has been good to the network. The most recent run of Doctor Who could best be described as a full-on mess (or, if we're getting especially mean, "a shell of its former self"), but the show does good business for BBCA and makes all sorts of noise online. I'm certainly hoping that the 50th anniversary special sets the series on a new, more consistent course, but now that news has broken that Matt Smith is leaving after that "big event" episode, I'm a little weary.
The real story here is Orphan Black, a show that has picked up steam, both in quality and with critics and audiences, as the season progressed. It is yet another BBC America show that does very well on social media sites like GetGlue, and thankfully the channel renewed it for a second season.
12. Netflix (previous rank: N/A)
I added a twelfth spot to the rankings this time because it's hard to exclude Netflix. Yes, they aren't a network, but they've been positioning themselves to compete with the powerful players in the industry for a while now, and Memorial Day weekend was the first big pinnacle of that process with the release of Season 4 of Arrested Development. The hype was extraordinary, but the reviews have been decidedly mixed thus far (make sure to keep up with Nick as he moves through the new batch episode by episode), and creator Mitch Hurwitz is already getting defensive on Twitter. Nevertheless, Netflix won't release specific viewership data, but a recent press release claims that 36 percent of Netflix usage on Sunday was dedicated to at least one episode of AD. That is three times the viewership for House of Cards, a show Netflix has called a hit. Whether or not you think the new episodes are up to snuff (I don't), and whether or not you think Netflix is redefining the way television is produced or consumed (again, I don't), one thing is for sure: People are talking about the brand.