CBS got its summer programming slate rolling last week with the premiere of “Big Brother.” ABC, FOX and NBC have had their summer shows up and running for several weeks.
Peak TV continues unabated when it’s hot outside: Cable channels and streaming services pretty well take it for granted that there’s no real offseason and schedule shows year-round. In the past five years or so, broadcast networks have caught up to that idea as well. This summer, nearly half of the 91 hours of primetime real estate on the five networks will be filled with original programming.
There’s still a perception that summer is a dumping ground, in particular for scripted series, but even that’s not entirely true anymore. The broadcast networks aren’t as busy as they are from fall to spring, but you can find original programming — often a lot of it — on every night of the week on broadcast.
Three of the five English-language broadcasters are filling more than half of their primetime schedules with originals this summer. Across all five, you’ll see as many as 44.5 hours of originals in a given week — just under 49 percent of their total available primetime hours — once their full summer slates have premiered.
|Hours of original programming per night in summer|
|% of schedule||59.1%||31.8%||60%||56.8%||30%|
(Totals reflect the number of hours when a network’s full summer schedule is in effect.)
That’s actually a little less than recent years: In the three summers prior to this one, the broadcast networks have put on an average of 47.5 hours of original programming. You have to go back to the beginning of the decade to find a summer with fewer than 40 original hours.
(Spanish-language broadcasters Univision and Telemundo, incidentally, have had year-round programming as a matter of course for years.)
It stands to reason, too, that the networks wouldn’t be making that big an effort if there weren’t some payoff. It’s still true that the bar for success in summer is a bit lower than during the September-to-May season — though not much lower, given the erosion of network numbers in recent seasons — but several shows airing now are in the upper echelons of the ratings for their respective networks.
“America’s Got Talent” should end up no worse than NBC’s No. 3-rated series of 2016-17 in adults 18-49 (excluding sports) — and it will probably make the top 10 across all the broadcast networks. Its 2.6 same-day rating is currently ahead of “The Voice” and just 0.1 behind “This Is Us.”
“World of Dance” (2.0) will probably finish in NBC’s top 5 for the year, and “American Ninja Warrior” will be in the top 10.
“The Bachelorette” (currently 1.5) projects to be among ABC’s 10 highest-rated shows of the past 52 weeks, and “Celebrity Family Feud” (1.4) will be in or just outside the top 10. “Big Brother” only just started, but if it stays in the 1.6-1.7 range of its first two shows, it too will be a top-5 series for CBS.
Shows like “Beat Shazam” and “Masterchef” on FOX, “Hollywood Game Night” and “The Wall” on NBC and “The Gong Show” on ABC would rank near the middle of their network rosters, at best. But they’re all doing better than any of the scripted repeats that might otherwise be airing.
Scripted series represent sort of the last frontier for successful summer programming on the broadcast networks. Several shows have had decent runs in the summer: “The Night Shift” is in its fourth season on NBC (three of which have aired in summer); “Mistresses” ran for four years on ABC; and “Zoo” just opened its third on CBS.
Still, none of those could be considered a breakout nit. They can fill a niche — CBS in particular seems to treat summer as the time to let its drama freak flag fly — but they don’t draw the way regular-season shows do.
And maybe they don’t need to. There’s a lot of infrastructure, from scheduling to marketing, that goes into making a show pop, and networks may want to spend their money and time elsewhere.
But if anyone tells you there’s nothing on TV in the summer, they aren’t paying attention.