The Simpsons Pulled Off A Major Premiere Week Ratings Win, Which Is Not Great For TV As A Whole

Lisa Simpsons happy between Cletus and Jasper on The Simpsons
(Image credit: Fox)

Modern TV-viewing habits continue to change year over year, as streaming services continue to sap paying customers from the linear realm where cable and satellite dominated for so long. The latest doomsaying sign (or sigh?) of the times was this year’s all-important Fall TV premiere week, which largely suffered average viewership and ratings losses compared to the same week in 2021. But Fox managed to pull off something of a victory in the face of the competition, boasting a small uptick across the board, and The Simpsons’ Season 34 premiere rose above all others with the most impressive 18-49 demographic rating of all non-sports programming for the week. Which is obviously great news for Homer and Marge, but also a bit of a damning diagnosis for linear television on the whole.

How The Simpsons Won Premiere Week's Ratings Game

As it’s often gone over the years, The Simpsons enjoyed the fruits of its Sunday night lead-in time slot, which immediately follows the NFL’s post-game wrap-up The OT. Because the Week 3 afternoon telecast went long, other shows were pushed back later, though a notable chunk of the total audience stayed tuned into Fox for the first week of its animated comedy block. The Springfield stalwarts brought in 4.14 million total viewers with the ep “Habeas Tortoise,” which centered on a zoo-related conspiracy theory, and featured the latest guest appearance from Criminal Minds vet Joe Mantegna. 

The Simpsons didn’t land the biggest total non-sports audience of the week with that stat — that went to 60 Minutes, with Chicago Fire earning the most eyeballs among all scripted programming for the week — the animated comedy did score the highest when it comes to viewers aged 18-49. According to SpoilerTV, the season opener landed a 1.41 rating, which was not only the biggest number, but was also the only non-sports offering to surpass a 1.0 rating. Which is just dismal for everything else. 

While that outcome obviously relies so heavily on the NFL’s audience, it’s still bizarrely impressive that the show that’s been on the air longer than literally all of its entertainment-based competitors is still able to maintain the biggest younger-skewing crowds. That’s the kind of logic only Ralph Wiggum can grasp. I can only imagine that this year’s first big “Treehouse of Horror” episode will bring in an even larger audience, as it’ll be a full-length parody of Stephen King’s IT. But that assumption could be completely wrong, considering how relatively rare it is for TV show to build bigger viewerships after premiere week, outside of one-off spikes for midseason and season finales.

Why The Simpsons’ Win Is A Loss For TV As A Whole

Even when TV viewers are dealing with setbacks such as DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket outages in Weeks 1 and 2, the NFL remains a monolith in the ratings game, despite some minor quarantine-related dips causing worries about the sport’s future as linear TV’s biggest saving grace. But with Amazon Prime snatching up Thursday Night Football, and with Sunday Ticket likely flipping to a streaming service in 2023, those worries will no doubt begin anew after the current season ends. That obviously won’t fully deplete live numbers on Sunday afternoons, but the smaller those groups get, the smaller the overall TV audience gets. 

Because even though The Simpsons enjoyed its NFL spillover audience, the comedy’s 4.14 million viewers is obviously a hefty drop from the 12.1 million who were watching The OT, much less the 26 million+ that tuned into the game itself. It’s easy to imagine a big percentage of that total switched over to NBC for Sunday Night Football, which easily won out the primetime hours with nearly 18 million viewers, and an 18-49 demo rating of 5.0. 

Until we get to the point when every network is able to air new NFL games every night of the week ahead of primetime — which will never happen — this kind of backwards success that The Simpsons is enjoying will continue to be the norm for linear TV. Maybe Fox will one day opt to stick The Masked Singer or a marquee drama into that post-NFL slot, so that it can reap those ratings rewards in bigger ways, but until then, the medium’s proudest underachiever (Bart Simpson) is a demo king. Now how far away are we from big-time producers figuring out ways to fit full episodes of shows into halftime breaks?

The Simpsons airs new episodes on Fox every Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. ET, unless otherwise delayed by NFL overages. While waiting to see what’ll hit Springfield next, you can check out the first 33 seasons with a Disney+ subscription, which will also give fans access to the various crossover shorts that have been released since it joined the platform.  

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.