How ‘The Flash’ Turned CW Into a Ratings Contender on Tuesdays

The consistently fifth-place broadcast network bested ABC and Fox last week — and could do so again

The CW outran Fox and ABC in the Nov. 10 ratings race, scoring a third-place finish among English-language broadcasters in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic. For most of the other networks, that would mean room for improvement. For the CW, it represented a historic high. The network had not finished above fourth place on a night in which all the English-language broadcasters aired only original episodes since 2008.

Whether it can duplicate the feat Tuesday night will depend on whether its strongest show can maintain its momentum and how well its competitors can recover after stumbling in the first months of the season.

The CW’s isn’t built to challenge the Big Four on a nightly basis. Its primary focus for advertisers has been on the 18-34 demo; its business model is based largely on a lucrative licensing deal with Netflix. But it leaped to the middle of the pack for one night last week thanks to its hottest and most consistent performer: “The Flash.”

From the time it premiered in 2014, “The Flash” has been the highest rated show in the CW’s nine-year history. On Nov. 10, the DC superhero show drew a 1.5 live-plus-same day rating among viewers 18-49, good enough to finish third in the 8 p.m. time period behind NBC’s “The Voice” and CBS’ “NCIS.”

More importantly, it was the fifth highest rated show of the evening out of 14 broadcast episodes. No Fox or ABC show outperformed “The Flash.”

Fox and ABC entered the season betting on new series to carry their Tuesday nights. At the season’s outset in September, that looked like a solid strategy.

Fox gambled big with a Tuesday lineup of new shows. Freshman comedies “The Grinder” and “Grandfathered” were generally well reviewed and featured popular TV veterans in Rob Lowe, Fred Savage and John Stamos. Hour-long horror-comedy “Scream Queens,” meanwhile, boasted an all-star cast, a Ryan Murphy pedigree, and the largest marketing budget of any Fox show this fall.

All three have fallen flat — particularly “Scream Queens,” whose delayed viewing numbers the network has touted, but in live-plus-same day numbers has fallen from a soft 1.7 premiere to flat-out bad 0.9 Tuesday.

ABC, meanwhile, bet big on “The Muppets,” handing it the 8 p.m. lead-off spot, where it hoped that the freshman comedy would draw, through its instant brand recognition and aggressive cross promotion with other ABC series, a big audience that would then stick around for the rest of the night.

“The Muppets,” started strong, premiering to a 2.9 rating, but took a hard downward turn in Week 2, dropping to a 2.0. Its ratings have have declined ever since. On Nov. 10, the comedy drew a 1.2, getting beaten by the show that follows it, “Fresh Off the Boat,” for the fifth straight week.

But no new series this season, or in most others, has performed as disastrously as ABC’s “Wicked City,” which in its third week tied a record for the lowest demo ever rating for a non-Saturday original drama on broadcast. Its 0.4 demo rating Tuesday was not even a third of what “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. drew in the hour before it.

On Friday it was canceled, removed from the schedule amid breaking news of the Paris terror attacks.

“The Flash,” meanwhile, has displayed uncommon consistency, drawing a 1.4 for each of its four episodes this season and a 1.5 for each of the last two. In fact, the show was the only one on broadcast Nov. 10 to draw a higher rating than it did for its season premiere.

With “The Flash” likely to continue to perform at its current level for the foreseeable future — and companion “iZombie” doing respectably at 9 p.m. — the CW should continue to compete with and likely beat Fox, at least until midseason, when “Scream Queens” ends and the network switches to a two-hour comedy block.

Against ABC, it’s a question of how the network fares post-“Wicked City.” Reruns of “Shark Tank” — a reliable stopgap for ABC in the past — will air in the Tuesday 10 p.m. timeslot for the net few weeks.

But regardless of when “Wicked City” is canceled, the CW is now providing strong competition to the other broadcasters, at least one night a week.