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7 Biggest Surprising and Unsurprising Takeaways From TV Premiere Week

Lead-ins still matter and live ratings are still trending down

Friday marks the end of the beginning of the 2015-16 television season. This week, the broadcasters unveiled a large swathe of returning shows and nine new series.

Though several fall entries have yet to premiere, the new TV season is already coming into focus. TheWrap looks at what surprised us and what didn’t this premiere week.

Surprising: Empire Breaks Its Own Ratings Record

That the Season 2 premiere of “Empire” would do well was a given. But few expected it to set a new high-water mark for ratings. The 6.7 Nielsen rating the premiere drew in the 18-49 demo was the best ever for the show, and the best by far of any entertainment broadcast premiere this week. (The next highest was “The Big Bang Theory” with a 4.5.) “Empire” fell short of its peak in total viewers, set during the Season 1 finale, by only 500,000.

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Surprising: Aside From ‘Empire’, Fox New Slate Underperforms

Hour-long horror-comedy “Scream Queens” was Fox’s highest stakes launch of the fall, with the network spending more on marketing for it than for any other freshman premiere. So its  1.7 debut demo rating was underwhelming — though Fox does expect it improve significantly with delayed viewing. Fellow freshman Minority Report delivered even more lackluster ratings, and Gotham premiered to a 1.6, down more than 50% from its series premiere last season.

Unsurprising: Live Ratings Continue to Trend Downward

Of the 11 returning broadcast series to debut so far this week, only “Empire” exceeded its premiere ratings from last season. Two shows–ABC’s The Middle and The Goldbergs–broke even. All other shows posted declines. That trend is in line with recent seasons, which have seen live-plus-same day ratings fall out of fashion in favor of more inclusive but less readily available delayed viewing numbers.

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Unsurprising: People Like ‘The Muppets’

With its instant brand recognition and a big marketing push behind it — including ads that featured the show’s felt-skinned stars interacting with actors from other ABC series such as “Scandal” and “Castle” — it was a good bet that people would give “The Muppets” a shot. And they did. With its 2.9 live-plus-same day Nielsen rating, it was the second highest rated new show to premiere this week.

Surprising: People Really Like ‘The Muppets’

That said, “The Muppets” was hardly a sure thing. The franchise has had misfires in the past, and leading up to the premiere it was the subject of reviews that questioned the high number of sex jokes and media backlash against the way the press has covered it. But a closer look at rating show that people not only tuned in to sample the “The Muppets,” but stuck with it. In fact, demo ratings for the show grew from 2.8 in the first half to 2.9 in the second half — a trend that bodes well for next week’s second episode.

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Unsurprising: Lead-ins Still Matter

One of the biggest surprises about “The Muppets'” strong performance was that at 8 p.m. it had no benefit of an established show to serve as a lead-in. Though shifts toward delayed and multiplatform viewing would appear to de-emphasize the importance of lead-ins, several new shows benefited from following big hits this week. The highest rated freshman of the season, NBC’s “Blindspot,” drew a 3.1 following the season premiere of “The Voice” (3.5). CBS’ “Life in Pieces” drew a 2.6 at 8:30 p.m., following “The Big Bang Theory” (4.5).

Surprising: Shondaland Is the Happiest Place on TV

ABC’s strategy of counterprogramming CBS’ “Thursday Night Football” with back-to-back-to-back female-skewing dramas from executive producer Shonda Rhimes continues to be one of the shrewdest scheduling moves made on television in recent years. Heading into its second season, the #TGIT block continued to tear up social media and Nielsen numbers. Season premieres of “Grey’s Anatomy” (2.8), “Scandal” (3.3) and “How to Get Away With Murder” (2.6) far outperformed their non-football competition and proved that it is possible to program against the NFL.

See TheWrap Magazine Fall TV Issue complete coverage: