In the midst of the current COVID-19 health crisis, people have been advised to stay indoors and practice social distancing rather than getting out and about — and what else is there to do indoors but watch a whole boatload of TV? While most streaming sites have been experiencing surges, this boom in viewership has also hit live TV.
Broadcast networks have been complaining for years that their numbers are trending down year-over year, and ratings are only buoyed by delayed viewing and streaming numbers. While coronavirus precautions have wreaked havoc on this season's production schedule, social distancing regulations have provided some silver linings for the networks when it comes to numbers.
Broadcast TV experienced an uptick in viewership numbers last week when widespread social distancing began in the U.S., with NBC's The Voice reporting a rise of 38 percent week-over-week. Each of NBC's Chicago shows drew season-high audiences, and This Is Us and Superstore also saw big gains. At ABC, Station 19 reached series-high numbers, with Grey's Anatomy pulling in its biggest total audience in a year. Over at Fox, The Masked Singer had its biggest audience since its Super Bowl episode.
This uptick in ratings wasn't just reserved for the broadcast network's smash hits though. Fledgling series like NBC's Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, Fox's Deputy, and ABC's mixed-ish also saw gains this past week. To no one's surprise, children's networks like Nickelodeon and Disney Channel have experienced upticks as schools across the country are shutting down and moving to virtual classroom platforms.
While ratings have been up across the board, the biggest spike occurred during news broadcasts. As you'd expect, millions of Americans who don't usually watch the nightly news are now riveted by updates on the current health crisis, the country's economy, and what went down in the daily White House press briefing. According to The Hollywood Reporter, ABC's World News Tonight and NBC's Nightly News each pulled in over 12 million nightly viewers — hitting numbers not seen by broadcast news since the early 2000s.
So what do these ratings mean for all your favorite shows, especially considering cancellation and renewal season is right around the corner?
For the most part the biggest ratings increases have been for tried and true series like Grey's Anatomy, Survivor, and The Walking Dead, none of which were in much danger of cancellation in the first place. New series have also seen a noticeable bump — most likely because most viewers find it easier to catch on to Season 1 of a show than Season 4 — which will hopefully increase their likelihood of receiving a Season 2 pickup.
For many bubble shows however, the ratings surge hasn't made a huge difference and thus doesn't make for the saving grace you'd probably hope for. Shows like The Resident, Stumptown, and Good Girls, saw small upticks last week, but others like The Rookie, SWAT, and MacGyver weren't so lucky. In this particular case, rising tides don't lift all boats.
The truth is that yes, more people are watching television now that we're all cloistered inside every night of the week. But for the most part, they're turning in to the same television shows people were already watching to begin with. Smash hits are getting smashier, shiny new series are getting shinier, and bubble shows are more or less stuck where they always were — on the bubble.
To find out which shows are currently renewed or canceled, check out TV Guide's 2019-2020 scorecard.