Early ratings hits and misses: 'Stumptown,' 'Prodigal Son' lead TV's new season

Jenny Cohen
USA TODAY

We've all been burned by new TV shows.

Sometimes we get attached to one, only to find out we're the only ones watching when it gets canned. Or there's a buzzy new series everyone's talking about except us, which leads to a weekend binge so we can keep up with the cool kids.

But it doesn't have to be this way. A look at Nielsen's crystal ball  can predict possible successes –  and failures. Ratings are less dependable than ever, as a sizable chunk of viewing comes from online platforms for which the service doesn't publicly disclose audience figures. But they can be a good way to figure out what to start watching now and what to avoid.

Cobie Smulders in ABC's drama "Stumptown."

Based on Nielsen's live +7 ratings, which measure audiences up to seven days after the show first airs, including DVR time-shifters, here are some early hits and missesbased on the first week of the new TV season, Sept. 23-29.  A caveat: It takes a few weeks for viewing patterns to settle in, and we'll never learn how well a seemingly DOA network comedy does on Hulu. And don't worry, we haven't forgotten about CW. it just prefers to debut its new season later than the more traditional networks, so ratings data isn't complete just yet.

Winners: 'Stumptown' and 'Emergence'

"Stumptown" has shown early signs of success, nabbing the top spotamong new shows during premiere week with 9.1 million viewers, and doubling its same-day audience within a week. The ABC drama stars Cobie Smulders ("How I Met Your Mother") as a private investigator who helps the Portland, Oregon, police department, using questionable tactics to get the job done.

Close behind with 8.4 million is ABC's "Lost"-like thriller drama "Emergence," which follows Jo Evans (Allison Tolman, "Fargo"), a police officer who finds a young girl at the scene of a mysterious accident.

Tom Payne ("The Walking Dead") plays a criminal psychologist who is good at his job by learning from his father, played by Michael Sheen ("Masters of Sex"), a notorious serial killer, in Fox's "Prodigal Son."

Winner: 'Prodigal Son'

The drama about a criminal profiler who enlists the help of his serial-killer father had a 7.3 million viewers overall but topped the list for new shows among the networks' target 18-49 demographic, thanks to its berth behind returning hit "9-1-1," which tied "Grey's Anatomy" in second place with that audience  (behind "This Is Us") among scripted series. That's why Fox has approved a full-season order of the show starring Tom Payne ("The Walking Dead") and Michael Sheen ("Masters of Sex").

Winner: 'All Rise'

There will always be new court dramas on television each season, and this year is no exception. The CBS drama "All Rise" earned the second-best slot for a new show among total viewers with 8.5 million watching the show in its first week.

Winner: 'Mixed-ish'

The ABC series was the highest-rated new comedy among the 18-to-49group during premiere week, in both overall viewers and the 18-to-49 crowd. The comedy, starring Arica Himmel as Rainbow Johnson (played by Tracee Ellis Ross in "Black-ish") as she navigates the 1980s in a mixed-race family, had almost 700,000 more viewers than "Black-ish," which it follows on Tuesdays.

Winner: CBS comedies

Three series made a splash with viewers at CBS: "Carol's Second Act," "The Unicorn" and "Bob Hearts Abishola." Returning comedies also did well for CBS. "Young Sheldon," for example, topped the list of all comedies for premiere week with 11.2 million, but was down from 14.4 million during last year's premiere week, when it followed  top comedy "The Big Bang Theory"  (18.2 million viewers).

Winner: 'The Masked Singer'

Fox's quirky singing competition returning after an exciting first season last winter  and proved it can still hang tough in the ratings. The two-hour season premiere claimed 11.4 million viewers and trailed only football among the 18-49 crowd, even beating "This Is Us."

Losers: 'Sunnyside'/'Perfect Harmony'

NBC's two new comedies, led by  Kal Penn and Bradley Whitford, were neither sunny nor perfect, as both ended up near the bottom of new-show rankings among all viewers as well at the 18-to-49 demographic.

Kal Penn (center, "Designated Survivor") is Garrett Modi, a disgraced New York City Councilman who hopes to find redemption by helping people try to become American citizens.

Loser: 'Bless the Harts'

Fox is well known for its animated line-up on Sundays, which includes shows like "The Simpsons," "Bob's Burgers" and "Family Guy." But "Bless the Harts" had a half-hearted debut. To be fair, its lead-in, "The Simpsons," is not the powerhouse it once was. The long-running series claimed 2.8 million viewers for its season premiere while "Bless the Harts," which followed it, had 2.1 million viewers.   Even the voiceover talents of Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph from "Saturday Night Live" haven't been able to help this show about a Southern family struggling to make ends meet.

Loser: 'Almost Family'

The "Almost" drama is more like a definite failure. The series about three women who find out they are sisters conceived secretly by the same fertility doctor made a lackluster debut after the second episode of "The Masked Singer" on Wednesday night, losing more than 60% of Fox's reality-show audience among same-day viewers.

Loser: Broadcast television

Broadcast ratings declines have accelerated as the networks face a growing number of streaming services and more  cable programming. NBC's hit "This Is Us," for example, had 13 million viewers for last month's premiere, down from 16.3 million last year. ABC's "The Good Doctor" fell by 2.1 million viewers "FBI" on CBS shed 1.5 million viewers.

Top 5 new shows

1. Stumptown (ABC) 9.1 million

2. All Rise (CBS) 8.5 million

3. Emergence (ABC) 8.4 million

4. Carol's Second Act (CBS) 8.4 million

5. The Unicorn (CBS) 8.1 million

Top 10 shows

1. Sunday Night Football (NBC) 24.4 million

2. Thursday Night Football (Fox) 18.1 million

3. NCIS (CBS) 16.9 million

4. This Is Us (NBC) 13.0 million

5. FBI (CBS) 12.7 million

6. Blue Bloods (CBS) 12.4 million

7. 60 Minutes (CBS) 12.3 million

8. The Good Doctor (ABC) 12.2 million

9. New Amsterdam (NBC) 11.7 million

10. The Masked Singer (Fox) 11.4 million

Source: Nielsen; total viewers based on seven-day viewing for programs first aired from Sept. 23-29, 2019.