It was an odd move when three of the four major networks announced they were all airing comedies against each other during the 9pm hour on Tuesdays this fall. Last night was the first time that Fox, NBC, and ABC’s sitcoms all squared off against each other (due to ABC’s late premieres), and the ratings are in. At 9pm, New Girl won the hour with a 2.7 rating in the 18-49 demo, besting Go On (2.5) and the season premiere of Happy Endings (1.9). The New Normal (1.8) narrowly beat Don’t Trust the B (1.7) at 9:30, with Fox’s The Mindy Project pre-empted for singing competition X Factor. In the 8pm hour, where Fox is the only network airing comedies, Raising Hope scored a 1.7 and Ben and Kate, a 1.4. On the whole, all the 9pm shows’ numbers were competitive with each other, as all of their scores were within one ratings point of one another. ABC’s comedies performed slightly worse than NBC at 9pm mostly because Happy Endings’ lead-in, Dancing with the Stars, is stumbling in the ratings, while Go On’s 8pm lead-in, The Voice, is wildly popular.
A one-night comedy pileup like this is pretty unusual and maybe not the best thing for any of these shows because the networks are dividing the sitcom-seeking audience up into smaller pieces by making them choose between three similar types of shows. This is the first time three of the four big networks have put up comedies on the same night and time in 9 years, since the 2002-03 season, when the same three networks fought over the Tuesday 8pm hour. ABC had 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter and According to Jim up against NBC’s Just Shoot Me and one-season wonder In-Laws, up against That ‘70s Show and Andy Richter Controls the Universe on Fox. None of the shows did too well because they split the comedy audience and all lost to CBS, the only big network offering counterprogramming with a drama.
Three networks broadcasting comedies at the same time used to be more common during the sitcom-crazy ‘90s, until the reality show boom hit in the early ‘00s and provided networks with a quicker, cheaper alternative to the sitcom, a form that was experiencing a decline in popularity by the time mega-hits like Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond ended their runs and the crop of new comedies proved to be not nearly as popular. With The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family having become two of the highest-rated shows on TV these past few years in the wake of reality juggernauts like American Idol slipping, there’s been a sitcom boom with networks airing more and more comedies now than in years past.
In the 2000s, it’s been rare for the four networks to air two comedies on the same night and time, let alone three. The past decade has seen the nets each airing a comedy block one night a week and staying out of each other’s ways, with CBS’s broad batch of mostly-Chuck Lorre sitcoms on Mondays, ABC’s family shows on Wednesdays, NBC’s critically-acclaimed, low-rated single-camera efforts on Thursdays, and Fox’s Seth MacFarlane-heavy Animation Domination block on Sundays. That all changed in 2010, when CBS moved Big Bang Theory to Thursdays (NBC’s turf) and found wild success, causing a free-for-all that’s seen most of the networks dipping their toes in other nights, culminating in this giant heap of similar half-hour shows on Tuesday night. Whether this onslaught of Tuesday sitcoms will cause an overload and make audiences tire of comedies or become the start of more three-way sitcom fistfights remains to be seen, but it should be interesting to watch how this weekly ratings battle plays out each week.