Fall 2020 was unlike any start of a broadcast season. With the coronavirus pandemic grounding production for months, ABC, NBC and CBS’ first 2020-21 scripted originals started rolling out a month into the season, while Fox and the CW opted for fall lineups consisting largely of shows already in the can or acquisitions, except for Fox’s sports programming and a new season of The Masked Singer and the final episodes of the CW’s Supernatural.
In a season that already carries an asterisk because of the pandemic, Fox topped the fall ratings in adults 18-49 (1.4 rating) on the strength of Thursday Night Football and The Masked Singer, while NBC, paced by Sunday Night Football and This Is Us, was the most watched network (6.11 million), according to most current season-to-date rating information from Nielsen.
Excluding sports and breaking news, ABC, which does not have NFL football on the fall schedule, ranked as the No. 1 network with entertainment programming (1.0 rating) for the first time in 5 years among adults 18-49 – since the 2015-2016 season — and as the top entertainment network in total viewers (5.1 million) for the first time in 20 years – since the 2000-2001 season, at the height of the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? craze.
All networks were down from fall 2019; ABC’s declines were single-digit in both 19-49 and total viewers; all other broadcasters were off by double digits.
ABC got a fall ratings boost from The Bachelorette, a summer staple, whose latest season was delayed by the pandemic. It ranked as the No. 4 entertainment program of the fall in 18-49 (1.8), behind NBC’s juggernaut This Is Us (2.5), Fox’s high-flying The Masked Singer (2.3) and ABC’s resurgent Grey’s Anatomy (2.2). CBS summer stalwart Big Brother’s 2020 installment also ran ran deep into the fall, wrapping its run in late October. Its four weekly editions were CBS’ four highest-rated fall programs in the demo.
Despite ratings declines, football still dominated fall ratings in 18-49 and total viewers, with NBC’s Sunday Night Football and Fox’s Thursday Night Football ranking as No. 1 and No.2, respectively.
CBS had a strong showing on the list of most watched non-sports fall programs with venerable drama NCIS (12.9 million) at No. 1; 60 Minutes (11.9 million), buoyed by high-profile election-related telecasts and football lead-ins, at No. 2; and FBI (11.0 million) at No. 4. NBC’s This Is Us (11.1 million) took the No. 3 spot.
Among the few new series to debut this fall, ABC’s drama Big Sky and Fox’s new reality offering I Can See Your Voice were the highest ranked in 18-49, tied at 1.3. In total viewers, Big Sky (8 million) also was No.1, followed by CBS comedy B Positive (6 million). Both have received a full-season order.
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