At one point in television history, summer television meant reruns of shows from the past season. But in the current age, where TV viewers have more viewing options than just broadcast shows, broadcast networks realized they need some new shows to air in the summer as a way to compete against the cable and streaming services.
Around that time is when the broadcast networks would start to air reality competitions, which are less expensive to make and helped feature the rise of CBS’ Big Brother, which is currently in its 18th season. It was also a time when the networks would air dramas and comedies that wouldn’t have been aired during the fall, winter or spring schedules.
But this summer, according to Variety, television viewers are more interested in unscripted shows and reality competitions as opposed to scripted shows.
Uncle Buck, which was just canceled by ABC, was in the Top 15 for broadcast viewers, but it was the only scripted offering on the list.
CBS put their scripted show hopes on both BrainDead, which was created by Robert and Michelle King, who also created The Good Wife, and American Gothic, which is from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television. Both shows have well-known and established names behind-the-scenes and on-screen, but aren’t making a huge dent in terms of viewers and ratings and both shows don’t appear on summer’s Top 30 shows.
However, when it comes to returning unscripted shows, like Big Brother, America’s Got Talent, American Ninja Warrior and The Bachelorette, their ratings have stayed the same from their previous season or have dipped only slightly. NBC’s new team challenge show, Spartan Team Challenge, is also doing well in the ratings, as are ABC’s new unscripted shows, which include The $100,000 Pyramid, Match Game and the return of Celebrity Family Feud.
Fox’s Wayward Pines returned for a second season this summer, but its ratings aren’t what the ratings from the first season are.
Meanwhile, the upcoming Democratic and Republican national conventions make it hard for networks to schedule when shows can air and NBC is filling its broadcasting hours in August with the events of the Olympics.
Part of the reason that the reality and unscripted shows may be doing better than scripted shows is because of people’s traveling schedules, as it’s easier to catch up on an unscripted show, like American Ninja Warrior and Big Brother than it would be to catch up on a scripted show, which tends to be more serialized and have storylines that build on from the previous episode.
But, of course, there’s always exceptions to the rule, and summer television shows definitely have their exceptions.
In 2013, CBS premiered Under the Dome, which had an average rating of 2.7 during its first season, which led to the show being renewed instead of being a limited series run. The show ended its run in 2015 when it was canceled.
In the summer of 2014, NBC’s The Night Shift had a 1.6 rating in its premiere episode and was watched by 7.67 million viewers, making it NBC’s most-watched scripted summer show in 10 years, according to TV by the Numbers. And while its third season numbers don’t match its first season numbers, the most recent episode, from July 6, was watched by 5.7 million viewers and had a 1.1 rating, which tied its season high, according to TV by the Numbers. Deadline reported that the episode grew 38 percent in terms of the rating from the week before and had a million more viewers than its two-hour episode the week before.