‘Nashville’ TV Ratings: A Tale of 5 Seasons, 2 Channels and 1 Shocking Death

Is last night’s CMT episode the beginning of the end for former ABC series?

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(Spoiler alert: Stop reading right now if you don’t want to know what happened on last night’s “Nashville” — because it was big.)

If a character dies on basic cable, do broadcast viewers even hear about it?

Connie Britton’s singin’ “Nashville” character Rayna Jaymes passed away last night from injuries she sustained the prior week in a car crash. Since the series is now on CMT, far fewer fans tuned in than would have during its ABC heyday — but just how far has the series fallen in Nielsen TV ratings? Let’s find out together.

“Nashville” was never a big hit, but it performed respectively over its first few seasons on the Disney-owned broadcast channel. But despite a loyal fanbase, “Nashville” was one of those shows that seemed to perpetually exist on the cancellation bubble. Finally, after four years, it was officially cut — that’s when CMT swooped in and saved the show.

“Nashville’s” top-rated season in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic was its first — a 2.4 — on ABC. That episodic averages includes seven days of delayed viewing, like all figures in this story.

On its original home, the series actually rose from Seasons 2 (2.2) to 3 (2.3), though the latter run had five fewer airings, which could comparatively skew the numbers in a positive light. Season 3 brought in the show’s biggest overall audience per episode, even out-drawing the debut season.

The decline in “Nashville’s” fourth season was the pretty glaring one. The country music drama dropped 22 percent in the main demo, and 15 percent overall. That pretty much explains ABC putting the series out to pasture.

Eight episodes into the ongoing Season 5, which is CMT’s first turn, “Nashville” is averaging a 0.9 rating and 2.1 million viewers. That’s a further decline of 50 percent and 66 percent, respectively — a definitely low note, to steal a music term.

Now, we have to point out a few factors contributing to those glaringly low(er) numbers. First and definitely foremost, CMT is no ABC, nor would the Viacom cable channel claim to be.

Quick: What channel on your digital dial is the local ABC station? OK, what number is CMT? Exactly.

Also, CMT is only even available in about 75 percent of the country, whereas ABC is free for anyone with a coat hanger.

And don’t think CMT is disappointed in its acquisition. “Nashville” has broken the channel’s original series ratings records in pretty much all demos, and a large portion of viewers are newbies to the former Country Music Television. It also still does well “live.” Episode-by-episode, “Nashville” is down a much more reasonable 20 percent from ABC first-runs.

Finally, the lackluster Season 5 average is currently missing the weight of the Britton shocker, which took viewers by surprise but should help out when delayed tune-in numbers become available.

So, without Rayna, will Season 5 become “Nashville’s” actual swan song? CMT seems pretty optimistic that it won’t be — draw your own conclusion based on the below trajectory.

For easier consumption, here are the averages for each season of “Nashville”:
Season 1 (ABC) 18-49 average rating: 2.4
Season 2 (ABC): 2.2
Season 3 (ABC): 2.3
Season 4 (ABC): 1.8
Season 5 to-date (CMT): 0.9

Season 1 (ABC) total viewer average: 7.201 million
Season 2 (ABC): 7.109 million
Season 3 (ABC): 7.666 million
Season 4 (ABC): 6.525 million
Season 5 to-date (CMT): 2.1 million