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Battle Of The Crime Drama Ratings: ABC Vs. CBS Vs. NBC

the rookie ncis law and order svu
(Image credit: ABC/CBS/NBC)

The broadcast television lineup is packed with a variety of kinds of shows, ranging from comedies to dramas to reality competition series, and no two even within the same franchise are exactly alike. One genre that particularly stands out on the big three networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC is the crime drama, with more than a dozen shows about good guys chasing down bad guys across primetime. So, as the biggest shows are approaching their winter breaks, let’s look back at a week of the fall season when they all aired new episodes, and see which network comes out on top in the ratings… or if it’s more complicated than just declaring a winner. 

There are 14 shows spread across those big three networks that I would qualify as crime dramas, and they all have some ratings numbers worth looking at. After all, even in an era of streaming services and binge-watching, traditional ratings still matter for broadcast shows. To get the closest look at how these shows compare, we’ll look at the Live+Same numbers (a.k.a. the totals for people who watched a show live) and Live+7 (the totals for people who watched within a week of the initial airing) from SpoilerTV in the 18-49 age demographic, with the week of November 8 providing the most recent Live+7 totals.

the rookie season 4 nathan fillion john nolan

(Image credit: ABC)

ABC

ABC has the fewest crime dramas of the big three networks, with a grand total of two, and one is arguably more of a mystery show than crime drama. The Alphabet Network is just missing the big franchises that have been so successful on CBS and NBC. 

Still, the numbers show that even though ABC isn’t known as the destination for the best of heroes vs. villains in primetime, there is still an audience. Viewers just don’t generally watch live. Here’s how the shows and their numbers break down, starting with the ratings from Live+Same to Live+7:

  • The Rookie: 0.3 to 0.8 for rise of 166%
  • Big Sky: 0.3 to 0.7 for rise of 133%

Starting at 0.3 rating isn’t great, but both shows rising by more than 100% is certainly a positive. The Rookie and Big Sky are also both series that air in the 10 p.m. ET time slot on their respective nights, and other ratings trends suggest that series airing in the latest primetime slot tend to fare much better in delayed viewing. Now let’s take a look at the viewership numbers for the audience size: 

  • Big Sky: 2.7 million to 6.2 million for rise of 127%
  • The Rookie: 2.6 million to 6.1 million for rise of 135%

The Rookie ultimately reached a smaller audience than Big Sky but experienced a larger boost in delayed calculations. It’s also worth noting that Big Sky has a more enviable time slot, following Grey’s Anatomy on Thursdays. 

missy peregrym as maggie bell fbi cbs

(Image credit: CBS)

CBS

While crime dramas are few and far between on ABC, CBS is the top spot on television for the genre with eight series that qualify. Also unlike ABC, CBS dominates in the genre thanks primarily to its franchises, with a few outliers of shows that stand alone. Check out the ratings from Live+Same to Live+7!

  • FBI: 0.7 to 1.1 for rise of 57%
  • NCIS: 0.6 to 0.9 for rise of 50%
  • FBI: International: 0.5 to 0.8 for rise of 60%
  • Blue Bloods: 0.4 to 0.8 for rise of 100%
  • CSI: Vegas: 0.4 to 0.8 for rise of 100%
  • FBI: Most Wanted: 0.4 to 0.8 for rise of 100%
  • S.W.A.T.: 0.4 to 0.8 for rise of 100%
  • Magnum P.I.: 0.4 to 0.7 for rise of 75%
  • NCIS: Hawai’i: 0.4 to 0.7 for rise of 75%

Blue Bloods, S.W.A.T., and Magnum P.I. are the three standalone crime dramas, although CSI: Vegas arguably qualifies as well. It was brought back for a revival because of the name recognition of the CSI franchise and the successes of the NCIS and FBI universes, but is currently the only CSI show on the airwaves. So let’s look at the audience size: 

  • NCIS: 7.3 million to 10.8 million for rise of 48%
  • FBI: 7.1 million to 10.1 million for rise of 41%
  • Blue Bloods: 6.1 million to 9.9 million for rise of 62%
  • FBI: International: 5.6 million to 8 million for rise of 44%
  • Magnum P.I.: 5.4 million to 7.6 million for rise of 40%
  • NCIS: Hawai’i: 5.1 million to 7.5 million for rise of 48%
  • FBI: Most Wanted: 4.9 million to 8 million for rise of 65%
  • S.W.A.T: 4.8 million to 6.9 million for rise of 43%
  • CSI: Vegas: 3.2 million to 6.3 million for rise of 95%

The numbers don’t change all that much with CBS' top crime dramas, but they are impressive enough to prove that this network is a great place to park yourself if the goal is to consume as many hit crime shows as possible per week. That said, CBS isn’t the only network with some hit franchises to its name. In fact, the FBI shows share a TV universe with no fewer than five (and soon six) shows over on NBC!

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(Image credit: NBC)

NBC

NBC may not have the sheer number of crime dramas to match CBS, but its shows are extremely cohesive with some of the other biggest shows on television, particularly One Chicago. While not all of its crime shows can qualify as hits, NBC is making moves about the one with the lowest numbers and moving it back to Fridays. So let’s take a look at the ratings:

  • Chicago P.D.: 0.7 to 1.3 for rise of 85%
  • Law & Order: SVU: 0.6 to 1.2 for rise of 100%
  • Law & Order: Organized Crime: 0.5 to 1 for rise of 100%
  • The Blacklist: 0.3 to 0.6 for rise of 100%

Chicago P.D., SVU, and Organized Crime all exist within the same universe and are within three ratings points of each other on the same network, so kudos to NBC on that! The Blacklist isn’t going to win any ratings contests, but at least it fares well in delayed numbers… which brings us to the size of the audiences for these for shows:

  • Chicago P.D.: 5.5 million to 9.1 million for rise of 63%
  • Law & Order: SVU: 3.7 million to 6.1 million for rise of 65%
  • Law & Order: Organized Crime: 3 million to 5.1 million for rise of 70%
  • The Blacklist: 3 million to 4.9 million for rise of 64%

The order didn’t change for the NBC shows from ratings to viewership, and Chicago P.D. remained the show with the highest in both categories but the smallest rise (although not by much). So, what do these numbers mean when compared to those from ABC and CBS? 

the rookie fbi chicago pd

(Image credit: ABC/CBS/NBC)

Battle Of The Crime Dramas: Which Network Wins?

Well, I think it’s safe to say that there are a lot of variables involved here. CBS clearly has the most crime drama hits, and none of its Live+Same numbers are as low as what ABC has going on with The Rookie and Big Sky. NBC’s Chicago P.D. is the only show on a different network that even comes close to one of the higher CBS shows. When it comes to Live+Same ratings, I think it’s safe to say that CBS wins. 

But that’s not the whole story. In Live+7, two of the three top-rated shows are over on NBC, with Chicago P.D. and SVU, with only FBI breaking above a 1.0 on CBS and narrowly beating Organized Crime. The only show that CBS definitively beats in Live+7 ratings is The Blacklist, and the ABC series even tie with some of the Eye Network's number.

CBS does fare better in Live+7 audience size, however. The top three most-watched crime dramas are all on that network, with NCIS, FBI, and Blue Bloods. Once again, NBC’s Chicago P.D. is the only show on a different network that comes close, and even that’s nearly a difference of 1 million. 

So I think there are awards worth giving to all three networks. ABC’s shows actually increased by the largest percentages in both categories from Live+Same to Live+7, with boosts of well over 100% across the board. NBC gets the bragging right of Chicago P.D. tying FBI in Live+Same ratings but pulling ahead for easily the highest crime drama ratings of the week in Live+7. 

And of course CBS wins for the sheer number of hits that include franchise installments and standalone shows. If I had to pick one winner, I’d go with CBS, although ABC and NBC both deserve credit in certain areas. It should be interesting to revisit crime drama ratings in 2022, as CSI: Vegas will actually finish its first season on CBS in December, whereas the original Law & Order will be back on NBC in February after the end of the fall TV season.

Resident of One Chicago, Bachelor Nation, and Cleveland. Has opinions about crossovers, Star Wars, and superheroes. Will not time travel.