Bereft of scripted shows, opening week ratings down for TV

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Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard (13) is tackled by New Orleans Saints strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) and cornerback Marshon Lattimore in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

NEW YORK – The surest sign of how the coronavirus shutdown has devastated the television industry is the fourth-place finish of CBS in what was nominally the first week of a new fall season.

The network's viewership was down a whopping 61% from the premiere week last year, the Nielsen company said.

CBS has essentially been America's favorite television network for two decades. But that success was built primarily on its scripted dramas and comedies, particularly crime procedurals like “NCIS.” The shutdown in TV production because of the pandemic means CBS is struggling to cobble together a competitive schedule each week.

ABC, NBC and Fox were all down from last year, too. But between pro football and the return of some popular unscripted shows like “The Masked Singer” and “Dancing With the Stars,” they weren't hurt as much as CBS. Fox's animated series, including the ageless “The Simpsons,” are also back.

Overall television viewing was down 13% compared to the same week last year, with the decline more pronounced among younger viewers, Nielsen said.

Some scripted series have resumed production and are expected to gradually return to the air. CBS' “FBI” will start fresh episodes on Oct. 6, for example, with NBC's “This is Us” due back Oct. 27.

Technically, CBS was actually the fifth-place network last week, with Fox News Channel reaching more viewers in prime time. Fox News recorded an important milestone as the first cable network to beat all of the broadcast networks in viewership over a three-month period, Nielsen said. That's testament to the popularity of Fox's political programming and the summer cupboard being barren for the broadcasters.

NBC led the season-opening week, averaging 5.5 million viewers in prime time. Fox had 3.9 million, ABC had 3.8 million, CBS had 2.7 million, Univision had 1.14 million, Ion Television had 1.11 million, Telemundo had 1 million and the CW had 570,000.