Even In Sixth Season, ‘Big Bang’ Grows Audience to Record High

Thursday's episode of "The Big Bang Theory" -- titled "The Egg Salad Equivalency" and starring Jim Parsons -- scored big ratings (Photo: CBS)

It doesn’t exactly defy the laws of physics, but CBS’s sitcom about nerdy physicists attained an all-time high in the ratings this week — an achievement that is almost unheard-of for a prime-time series in its sixth season.

The show, “The Big Bang Theory,” drew 19.25 million viewers Thursday at 8/7c on CBS, the highest ratings in the show’s history. It’s an astonishing audience tally for several reasons:

1) For one thing, viewership exceeding 19 million for a scripted show on old-fashioned broadcast television is something that almost never happens in this day and age. The only other show on network TV that does this on a more or less regular basis is “NCIS,” also on CBS. (This week’s “NCIS,” seen New Year’s Night, happened to be a repeat that drew 10.63 million, according to Nielsen.)

2) Plus, scripted series in their sixth seasons don’t customarily grow their audiences. In the case of most hits that last this long, ratings tend to remain stable or drop off a bit. (There are exceptions, such as “Seinfeld,” which, if memory serves, grew its audience well into its sixth season and beyond.)

One reason this “Big Bang” audience tally on Thursday is not that surprising, however: As we’ve pointed out in previous posts last year, “The Big Bang Theory” is America’s sitcom-of-the-moment — the one you can’t avoid (not that you want to) when you’re grazing with your remote and looking for something to watch. Besides its prime-time position Thursday nights on CBS, reruns of “The Big Bang Theory” are seen on TBS on multiple evenings every week and on local TV stations, many of which air two episodes every weekday. With so much exposure in repeat syndication, “Big Bang” is winning new fans, who are then sampling the new episodes Thursday nights on CBS, resulting in the show’s sixth-season audience growth.

Can “Big Bang” sustain a viewership over 19 million every week? That remains to be seen. And, as some have pointed out this week, CBS ran a new episode of “Big Bang” up against reruns on the competing networks. On the other hand, shows such as “30 Rock” on NBC, “Nashville” on ABC, “Vampire Diaries” on CW and “Mobbed” on Fox (which was not a repeat Thursday night) are not exactly stiff competition for “Big Bang” on their best nights anyway.

Our take: Though it’s just a theory on our part, we like “Big Bang’s” chances of continuing to grow in the ratings for the foreseeable future. For the record, the previous high for “The Big Bang Theory” was 17.63 million viewers on Nov. 15 of last year.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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