What’s the hottest series on TV this fall? It’s not a sitcom, drama or reality show. It’s NFL football.
Ratings are soaring for the NFL this season all across the board, but especially for NBC’s ‘Sunday Night Football,’ which has helped NBC win the Sunday prime-time race for 13 consecutive weeks – a rare bright spot for a network struggling on just about every other evening of the week – to make headway against CBS, Fox and ABC.
Just this past Sunday night, more than 19 million tuned in to NBC between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. to watch the Steelers beat the Ravens. On Sept. 9, NBC scored its highest ratings of the season when 27.5 million watched the Saints defeat Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings – incredible numbers that few regular TV shows achieve these days.
What’s driving the NFL revival? Observers are pointing to the quality of play, the intensity and physicality of the games, a number of competitive rivalries and a handful of personalities with soap-opera-like stories – such as the aging Favre, who refuses to quit even in the face of an embarrassing “sexting” scandal, and Michael Vick, whose heroics as quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles this season are helping redeem his image after it was badly tarnished by his conviction and prison term for organizing dog fights.
Many are saying the revival this fall stems from last February’s Super Bowl – Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts (New Orleans won) – which was watched by more than 106 million people to become the single most-watched TV show in U.S. television history.
A column in the Hollywood Reporter lists seven reasons why football is the phenomenon of the fall, including No. 4: “Football is an ideal TV sport, and networks continue to come up with clever ways to enhance the viewing experience. Wait until 3D TV takes hold”; and No. 5: “More than other sports, even nonfans know many NFL players – from celeb-dating quarterbacks Tom Brady and Tony Romo to reality-show star Terrell Owens and the soap opera that is Brett Favre.”
The THR story noted that NBC’s ‘Sunday Night Football’ – the Steelers vs. the Saints – even beat Game 4 of the World Series in the ratings on Halloween, the first time ever that a football game beat a World Series game.
A New York Post analysis of the football phenomenon cited “a steady diet of must-see match-ups,” including the New York Jets-New England Patriots game on ESPN Monday night. “When the perennially pathetic Detroit Lions’ Thanksgiving game is CBS’ highest rated Turkey Day contest in 12 years, something is going on besides people who hate to make small-talk with their relatives,” wrote columnist Mike Rubin.
“Baseball may be America’s pastime, but we are a football nation,” THR concluded.
Well, are we a football nation? Have you noticed a new energy and excitement in the NFL on TV this season?