Welcome to the second edition of the most important power rankings on the internet! For those of you who missed the inaugural edition (and really, shame on you), here’s how they work: Using a tremendously complex and advanced methodology including ratings (Nielsen overnights, DVR numbers), business proceedings (pilot orders, scheduling moves, personnel decisions), buzz (social media, “viral” moments, various other bouts of goodwill), and quality (good shows, episodes), I evaluate the performance of the most noteworthy networks—for better or for worse—of the previous two weeks.
In the last go-round, CBS and Showtime took the top two spots. The rankings look a little different this time. Here we go.
Common logic is that one show can’t sustain a network. I still believe that’s true, but The Walking Dead is testing my belief. The show returned for the second half of its much-improved third season to even higher ratings than before: 12.3 million viewers. And that was against the Grammys, one of the more popular TV events of the year. Ratings for the show's second episode back did decline a bit, but not substantially. At this point, The Walking Dead is not just an unbelievably successful show on basic cable; it’s an unbelievably successful show period. The show’s influence spreads across Twitter and Facebook, where the mid-season premiere was the most social episode of the week in which it aired, and GetGlue, where it quadrupled the activity of the next-closest scripted cable show (Pretty Little Liars) and nearly doubled the activity of the top broadcast show (The Vampire Diaries). As a result, it’s tough to deny AMC the tough spot this time. Outside of zombies, the network has actually made some nice—or at least interesting—moves over the past few weeks as well, bringing Peter Sarsgaard and Elias Koteas aboard for the third season of The Killing and moving forward with pilots for both a period piece from Nikita creator Craig Silverstein and a drama based on the popular novel The Terror. And as far as I can tell, no showrunner was unceremoniously fired in the last two weeks; progress!
But I have to be honest: The announcement of Celebrity Bowling almost made me pull AMC all the way off this list. I'm not sure if Celebrity Bowling is better or worse than the network's new Thursday-night unscripted programming block—featuring Comic Book Men alongside the taxidermists and side-show performers of Immortalized and Freakshow—but with Walking Dead's successes, I guess AMC can order all the dumb shows they want.
Just a small dip for the Eyeball network (which, in the name of full disclosure, is a parent company of TV.com that also owns Showtime and part of The CW; there you go, everyone). If it weren’t for everyone’s love for zombies, it’d be tough to push CBS down at all. Last time, the net had the Super Bowl bump on its side (as if they needed it); this time, it’s the Grammys, which earned the title of last week's highest-rated telecast and straight-up dominated in the social buzz figures as well. According to the Trendrr TV/Mashable social TV ratings, the Grammys had about seven times more social media posts than the closest broadcast telecast last week—over 19 million posts! That’s something. Quality-wise, the Grammys are whatevs. It’s not CBS’s fault that Chris Brown and Rihanna sat together, I guess.
Elsewhere at the network, it’s business as usual, and that business is domination. A staggering 17 of the top 20 shows in total viewers came from CBS last week. I’ll throw some love toward Person of Interest since its fans got on me last time in the comments; the show is doing very, very well this year. Ratings are good and viewers seem to dig it. Despite being flush with sizable hits all over the schedule, CBS isn’t playing around this pilot season; Deadline reports that the network has ordered 53 percent more scripts to pilot than it did last year, which is wild when you consider that the only shows really in danger of being canceled are CSI: NY, Vegas, and one show out the Good Wife/Mentalist pairing. However, two random signs of cracks: the low premiere ratings for the new season of Survivor and the quick cancellation of The Job. But it’s okay, you didn’t even know The Job existed. CBS likes it that way.
Steady is as steady goes. American Idol continues to deliver solid ratings for Fox—though it at least feelslike people care less about the show these days. Despite a dip in ratings last week, The Following has steady ratings . The show isn’t totally my bag, but it gives Fox a hour-long drama to build around, considering it doesn't have much else. The net also has a number of shows in the top 25 DVR ratings, including New Girl (which has stablized in the ratings now), Bones, The Mindy Project, and the aforementioned The Following. Even better news is that Mindy is slowly but surely finding itself in 2013. The plot and characters have been parsed down and both the writing and Mindy Kaling’s performance are shining through with less clutter. I’ve always guessed that Fox would keep the freshman comedy around because they want to be in business with Kaling, but at least now it looks like that won’t be a totally worthless decision. And despite some waning hype, both Glee and Idol do gangbusters on social media (as do Family Guy and The Simpsons, somewhat surprisingly).
Fox is also killing it in the pilot casting department. Even though many of these projects won’t see the light of day, it’s impressive that the network has wrangled the likes of Andre Braugher, Emma Roberts, Billy Campbell, Felicity Huffman, Geoff Stults, Catherine O’Hara, and Michael Pena over the last two weeks. That’s a pretty amazing group of actors.
While HBO doesn’t have enough shows on the air right now to focus on ratings (and like HBO totally cares about ratings anyway), it’s important to note that the Beyonce's Life Is But a Dream hit a “decade-high” rating for the first airing of a doc on the network. That’s pretty cool. Also cool: Girls and Game Change winning more awards at the WGAs not too long ago.
On the development side, HBO has signed an overall deal with Game of Thrones mastermind George R. R. Martin and ordered Damon Lindelof’s first post-Lost show to pilot.
But the real reason HBO gets this high slot has to do with the second seasons of Girls and Enlightened, both of which have been tremendous. Enlightened has probably been called underrated so much that it isn’t really so anymore, but you should absolutely watch it. What a marvelous little series that is.
FX is going to be a consistent fixture in the power rankings because its shows are so good. Justified, The Americans, and Archer are all enjoying rock-solid starts to their respective seasons. And despite a big dip in ratings for The Americans' second episode, the show saw a substantial 58 percent increase for that episode once DVR viewings were factored in. Finally, the network ordered the much-anticipated pilot The Bridge to series. That one is from Homeland scribe Meredith Stiehm and just seems destined to do big things for the network.
There’s good and bad news here. Let’s do the bad first: Moving Happy Endings to Fridays is a killer. I was (probably naively) confident that network president Paul Lee would find a place for the show moving forward, but this is not a good sign for the comedy’s future. Is there a Twitter campaign I should know about? I’m still trying to figure out if the terrible ratings for Zero Hour are a good thing or a bad thing. The show IS terrible, but enjoyably so, and that timeslot is in the running for the most poisonous on all of television right now. Also bad: this season of Revenge. If you can explain to me what’s going on that show in less than 150 words, I’ll follow you on Twitter in an instant.
Oh right, the good news. It’s typical ABC good news: The few are carrying the many. Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Once Upon a Time, and The Middle are all helping the Alphabet network, in ratings, in DVR numbers, and in social media buzz. Scandal has moved into its second arc of the season and it’s unclear whether it can touch the first, but I’m pretty psyched to see the writers try to make it happen. Modern Family’s Valentine’s Day episode was one of the better efforts the show has produced in the last two years.
This next stretch of the power rankings features some love for networks that didn’t make into the dance last time. Many of the cable networks are going to be somewhat interchangeable without big premieres (like AMC and The Walking Dead). Still though, let’s not undercut ABC Family. At the moment, the network is running with three shows that lots of people (and different people) enjoy in Bunheads, Pretty Little Liars, and Switched at Birth. While I personally prefer the first and third in that series, Liars is doing very well ratings-wise and on various social networks. Despite The CW’s mini-resurgence in quality this season (well, can you be resurgent if you mostly only sucked before?), ABC Family is still out-WB’ing The CW.
Pawn Stars, y’all. Pawn Stars. The show’s ratings are still going very, very strong, and you know what? It’s still pretty entertaining, too. Go ahead and take away my critical credibility, but it’s more than fabricated pawning over at History. The network is also making bank on the immortal Swamp People and also doing well with something called Big Rig Bounty Hunters (which, no offense to any BRBH fans out there, sounds made up). It’s sometimes hard for me to remember which of these blue-collar/lower class exploitation shows is on which network, but at the moment, History seems to be doing the best with their offerings in that apparently never-exhausted genre.
I’m way behind on both Being Human and Continuum (and in the latter show’s case, “way behind” means that I've never seen an episode), but the ratings aren’t bad on a crowded Monday night. Being Human does really well on GetGlue, which means a little somethin’ somethin’. Like USA Network with WWE Monday Night Raw, Syfy gets a lot of ratings and social media buzz out of WWE Friday Night Smackdown, and the show has also been pretty good in recent weeks as well. Although I’ll admit that SyFy's inclusion in the power rankings is mostly so I can talk about how much I enjoy Face Off, a show that does solid ratings for the network on Tuesdays, and Total Blackout. I’m a sucker for reality competition programs where people actually display real skills, and Face Off is one of the best of those. I’m also sucker for Urkel and people terrifyingly grabbing turtles in the dark, so there's that. Also: expect Syfy to sky-rocket up the rankings once Robot Combat League debuts next week. Robots! Combatting! It’s going to be like Battlebots, only much better.
Did Showtime (which, like TV.com, is part of the CBS conglomerate) stay in the rankings solely because they finally convinced Kyle Chandler to return to television in the upcoming and random and suddenly timely Pope-centric pilot Vatican? Yes, yes they did. COACH POPE (I know he’s not playing the Pope; I don’t care).
Okay, so this one is a bit of a cheat. Netflix isn’t a television network. However, you’ve heard enough about how much NBC sucks or how much I love The CW. So why not take a moment to discuss this whole House of Cards thing nearly three weeks after its debut? I’ve seen the first three episodes of the show (I'm trying to watch one per week) and generally enjoyed them. Kevin Spacey is pretty great and I’m happy to rekindle my infatuation with Kate Mara. The big question is whether or not the series is actually a success for Netflix. The jury is still out on that one (and it will continue to be, I presume, for a long time). Netflix claims that House of Cards is currently the most popular show on the service but won’t release any specific numbers. Meanwhile, although the show did well socially in the first few weeks, there are indications that social media users aren’t too interested in it at this point, only 20 days after release. So the experiment continues on.
Previously ranked networks currently absent from our top 11: USA, TBS, NBC, The CW