It's been a while, but the Peacock can again spread its feathers with pride.
The addition of TV's hottest new show, "The Blacklist," to a roster that already featured broadcast's top-rated primetime program ("Sunday Night Football") and top reality show ("The Voice") has vaulted NBC to an unlikely first-place finish for the season in key demos. It's the first time the Peacock has been perched atop the network standings at season's end since "Friends" exited its air following the 2003-04 season.
COVER STORY: Bob Greenblatt Leads NBC Back to No. 1
Prior to last year, NBC had gone nine consecutive traditional seasons (September-May) without topping any of its rivals in adults 18-49. But after catching ABC a few years ago and moving ahead of the Alphabet last year, the Peacock this season also leap-frogged Fox and CBS to complete its outhouse-to-penthouse transformation.
NBC's improvements this season coincided with troubles at its rivals, as the Peacock was up vs. last year while ABC, CBS and Fox all declined to their lowest-ever season average. (CW was the only other broadcaster up.)
Overall through Sunday (and with three nights to be counted in the 2013-14 season that ends Wednesday), NBC led in adults 18-49 with a 2.7 rating/8 share (up 13% from last year). It was followed by Fox (2.5/7, even), CBS (2.4/7, down 17%), ABC (2.1/6, down 5%), Univision (1.2/3, down 20%) and CW (0.8/2). ABC is likely to end at 2.2 (which would leave it down 4%), and there's a shot that NBC could rise to a 2.8 (for a 17% gain).
The 2.7 rating is the best for NBC in four years, and its year-to-year improvement of 13% in 18-49 is the best for any network since ABC in 2004-05 (the year it bowed "Desperate Housewives," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost").
NBC also will finish the season No. 1 in adults 25-54 -- a tick ahead of CBS -- while the Eye will win in total viewers for the sixth straight season and the 11th time in 12 years.
CBS averaged 10.73 million viewers through Sunday (down 9% from last year), followed by NBC (9.28 million, up 33%), ABC (7.59 million, down 4%), Fox (7.35 million, up 4%), Univision (3.00 million, down 19%) and CW (1.89 million, up 6%)
As always, sports was a key factor in the network race, and Fox benefited from having the season's two top-rated primetime telecasts in the Super Bowl and the NFC Championship. CBS, on the other hand, had to endure comparisons to last year when it was the network airing football's two most-watched games.
As for NBC, 18 nights of the Winter Olympics certainly helped pad its averages, but even with those nights excluded, the net still would have eked past Fox for most adults 18-49 viewers. It also would have still finished second in total viewers.
The networks are pretty tightly bunched when it comes to non-sports averages for the season, with CBS out front (2.3/7), followed by NBC and ABC (both 2.2/6) and Fox (2.0/6).
For NBC, its first-place finish can be largely attributed to its top three series -- "Sunday Night Football," "The Voice" and "The Blacklist" -- which ranked among the season's five most popular broadcast programs in adults 18-49.
"Sunday Night Football" is the season's No. 1 series in 18-49, and though "The Voice" seemed to soften a bit in its spring edition, it finishes as the dominant reality program in demos and No. 2 broadcast entertainment series overall.
James Spader drama "The Blacklist" gave NBC a scripted presence near the top of the rankings for the first time in years. Boosted by record-setting DVR playback, it was the season's No. 1 new series and No. 2 drama overall in 18-49 (and it's No. 1 among Big Four dramas if only originals are counted).
NBC still has some work to do to become more consistent across the week and season, but the net has laid down a much stronger foundation that it had just a couple of years ago. And it showed gains on six of seven nights.
In addition to "The Blacklist," "Chicago Fire" and "Chicago PD" performed well, and "Grimm" is Friday's No. 1 series in 18-49 (thanks to DVR playback).
But NBC also did some other things well, including the live musical "The Sound of Music," and little things like effectively using "Saturday Night Live" specials and boosting its Saturday lineup with "Dateline Mystery."
In a season that would see it make big changes in latenight, NBC made the closing hour of primetime a priority -- and it paid off. Powered by "The Blacklist" on Mondays, NBC was the season leader in the 10:30 p.m. half-hour on weekdays in both 18-49 and 25-54.
Elsewhere, CBS was once again the most consistent network on a night-by-night basis and could claim more top 30 programs in key demos than any other network.
Although it has lost its No. 2-rated comedy for the season in 18-49, "How I Met Your Mother," CBS was the dominant network in comedy -- claiming seven of the season's top 10 shows in demos. Leading the way was "The Big Bang Theory," the season's No. 1 broadcast series in 18-49 and 25-54 (and total viewers too, if only original episodes are counted).
The Eye also aired the season's No. 1 new comedy ("The Millers"), the No. 1 newsmag ("60 Minutes") and the most-watched drama ("NCIS"). While "NCIS" was the No. 1 scripted program on Tuesday, CBS also had the most popular original scripted series on Wednesday ("Criminal Minds"), Thursday ("The Big Bang Theory") and Friday ("Blue Bloods").
ABC finished the season strong, winning the last five complete weeks in adults 18-49 (including one tie) -- its longest winning streak since the start of the 2006-07 campaign.
While the network had some bad stumbles (especially Tuesday at 10, where three dramas came and went quickly), its "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" and "Resurrection" were the Nos. 3 and 4-rated new dramas of the season in 18-49 (based on original episodes).
Among returning series, "Scandal" and "Shark Tank" had their best seasons to date, and the net could still count on anchors "Modern Family" and "Grey's Anatomy."
"Sleepy Hollow" emerged as the season's No. 2 new drama in 18-49 and "MasterChef Junior" was the season's top new alternative series, but overall it was a pretty rough season for Fox. "American Idol" took another tumble (and fell out of the top 10 for the first time), and scripted series like "Glee," "New Girl" and "The Following" were down meaningfully from last year.
CW reversed its downward ratings trajectory by introducing two solid players in "The Originals" and "Reign." Also, "Arrow" was still a pretty big draw in its second season, and "Supernatural" impressed in its ninth season.
TOP BROADCAST SERIES FOR SEASON
(Most current through May 18; all episodes)
1. Sunday Night Football (NBC), 7.9/20
2. The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 6.2/20
3. The Voice-Monday (NBC), 4.6/13
4. Modern Family (ABC), 4.5/13
5. Grey's Anatomy (ABC), 4.4/12
6. Scandal (ABC), 4.2/13
7. The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 4.2/12
8. Resurrection (ABC), 3.8/10
9. NCIS (CBS), 3.3/10
9. American Idol-Wednesday (Fox), 3.3/10
9. Criminal Minds (CBS), 3.3/9
9. Once Upon a Time (ABC), 3.3/9
13. American Idol-Thursday (Fox), 3.2/8
13. Sleepy Hollow (Fox), 3.2/8
15. Survivor (CBS), 3.1/10
15. 2 Broke Girls (CBS), 3.1/9
15. Marvel's Agents of SHIELD (ABC), 3.1/9
15. The Bachelor (ABC), 3.1/8
15. Family Guy (Fox), 3.1/8
20. The Following (Fox), 3.0/8
Total Viewers (in millions)
1. Sunday Night Football (NBC), 21.53
2. The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 19.96
3. NCIS (CBS), 19.77
4. NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), 16.03
5. Dancing With the Stars (ABC), 15.19
6. The Blacklist (NBC), 14.95
7. The Voice-Monday (NBC), 14.69
8. Person of Interest (CBS), 14.05
9. The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 14.04
10. Blue Bloods (CBS), 13.63
11. Resurrection (ABC), 12.96
12. Criminal Minds (CBS), 12.67
13. Castle (ABC), 12.63
14. 60 Minutes (CBS), 12.18
15. Grey's Anatomy (ABC), 12.12
16. Scandal (ABC), 12.00
17. CSI (CBS), 11.86
18. Modern Family (ABC), 11.84
19. Elementary (CBS), 11.75
20. Hawaii Five-0 (CBS), 11.67
Based on the most current L7 numbers available for original episodes (an apples-to-apples comparison that doesn't disadvantage shows airing repeats), the most popular broadcast series of the television season are listed below. ABC and CBS both claimed six of the top 20 broadcast series for the season, with NBC and Fox having four apiece.
1. Sunday Night Football (NBC), 7.9
2. The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 7.6
3. Modern Family (ABC), 5.6
4. The Blacklist (NBC), 4.9
5. The Voice-Monday (NBC), 4.8
6. How I Met Your Mother (CBS), 4.7
7. Scandal (ABC), 4.6
8. Grey's Anatomy (ABC), 4.5
9. The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 4.3
10. Sleepy Hollow (Fox), 4.2
11. Marvel's Agents of SHIELD (ABC), 4.0
12. Criminal Minds (CBS), 3.9
12. NCIS (CBS), 3.9
14. Resurrection (ABC), 3.8
15. American Idol-Wednesday (Fox), 3.5
15. 2 Broke Girls (CBS), 3.5
17. Once Upon a Time (ABC), 3.4
18. American Idol-Thursday (Fox), 3.3
18. Family Guy (Fox), 3.3
18. NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), 3.3
Total Viewers (in millions)
1. The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 23.26
2. NCIS (CBS), 22.58
3. Sunday Night Football (NBC), 21.53
4. NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), 17.92
5. The Blacklist (NBC), 16.96
6. Person of Interest (CBS), 16.37
7. Dancing With the Stars (ABC), 15.36
8. Blue Bloods (CBS), 15.21
9. The Voice-Monday (NBC), 15.01
10. Criminal Minds (CBS), 14.39
11. Castle (ABC), 14.37
12. Modern Family (ABC), 14.33
13. The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 14.26
14. Elementary (CBS), 13.55
15. CSI (CBS), 13.43
16. Scandal (ABC), 13.04
17. Hawaii Five-0 (CBS), 12.98
18. Resurrection (ABC), 12.96
19. American Idol-Wednesday (Fox), 12.47
20. Grey's Anatomy (ABC), 12.46
Source: Nielsen (Live+7 for original episodes only, Sept. 22, 2013-May 4, 2014)
Related stories'Voice,' 'Dancing' Top Monday; NBC's 'Maya Rudolph' SolidCBS' 'Big Bang Theory' Finale Dominates Thursday; Fox's 'Kitchen,' 'Idol' Improve'Big Bang Theory' Season Finale Mixes Sweetness With Laughs (SPOILERS) 2014 Variety Media, LLC, a subsidiary of Penske Business Media; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLCCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun