The last couple of years, September has introduced what has become a perennial question: Is science-fiction on network television dead?
Well, save the eulogies. At least for now. The audience for genre television still isn't growing, but it's not shrinking either.
The first full week of network programming remained flat with the same time last year, a 3.2 rating/5 share, in an average of Fast National overnight ratings from The Nielsen Co. That was fueled, in part, by the series premiere of "The Event" on NBC, which grabbed a 6.8/10, the highest network genre rating since the series finale of "Lost" on ABC, but behind the 7.7/13 premiere of "FlashForward" the same time period, which would lose at least a million viewers going into its second week.
Side-by-side, it's tough to compare what has kept sci-fi programming stable despite the fewer number of programs, but part of it could rely on the fact that lower-rated shows -- like those below the 2.0 household mark -- are not as plentiful as they were the year before. Last year, "Supernatural," "Dollhouse" and "Smallville" finished behind that mark, and this year there are just two -- mostly because "Dollhouse" is no longer on the air for Fox.
Only two other shows share slots in both rankings. "Fringe" on Fox and "Vampire Diaries" on The CW both dropped a little from the same time last year, but remained quite solid, mixed in with a 3.5/5 from "Chuck" on NBC.
Speaking of NBC, that network does have one notable absence this year: "Heroes." Last year, that show earned a 3.4/5 in its second week, about a full ratings point ahead of "Vampire Diaries" on The CW.
But how alive is genre programming? "The Event" is off to a fast start, but so was "FlashForward." After opening to a 7.7/13, the show quickly lost 13 percent of its premiere audience. By its sixth week, it was down to a 5.5/9, 29 percent off its premiere. "FlashForward" finished with a 4.6/8 and did not earn a second season pickup.
Already not coming back next season is "Smallville," and it's not clear if The CW will try and place another genre show in its place. A few years back, the network said it wanted to attract more of a female audience with shows like "90210" and "Gossip Girl," however, it's its genre offerings that have won the best ratings on the network, consistently led by "Vampire Diaries" since last year.
Top Genre Shows, Week of Sept. 19 -- [Audience Loyalty Index rating]
1. (-) The Event (NBC) -- 6.8/10 -- [NA]
2. (-) Fringe (Fox) -- 3.3/5 -- [NA]
2. (-) Chuck (NBC) -- 3.3/5 -- [NA]
4. (1) Vampire Diaries (CW) -- 2.2/4 -- [92.4]
5. (-) Smallville (CW) -- 1.7/3 -- [NA]
5. (-) Supernatural (CW) -- 1.7/3 -- [NA]
Fast Nationals usually provide a snapshot of what Americans are watching by pulling numbers from the top urban markets that include both live viewing and same-day timeshifted viewing. A rating point generally represents more than 1.1 million households while the share indicates the percentage of televisions turned on that was tuned to the specific program. These numbers typically shift when final ratings are issued.
Data collected from The Nielsen Co., as distributed by Zap2it. BlipNetwork tracks non-news, non-event programming, and figures for this story reflect airing of new episodes only. For more information on the Audience Loyalty Index, click here.
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