“Will & Grace” shines in return; NFL, Bears fall flat

Strong start for veteran sitcom – and oh yeah…Chicago’s NFL Lakefront Team was also in action

The return of Will & Grace to NBC Thursday night went better than expected.

The “season nine” comedy – starring Eric McCormick and Debra Messing premiered with a 3.0 adults 18-49 rating – better than any season eight episode eleven seasons ago (in 2005-06) and is the third-highest rated program so far in this young season – behind only The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon.

The return didn’t exactly mince on where the characters were the last eleven years – but focused on Grace being hired as an interior designer to remake the White House, with funny results. As one who didn’t watch Will & Grace much during the original run, I found the episode surprisingly fresh and funny. The return of Jack and the gang certainly did not disappoint.

Will & Grace’s return boosted NBC’s lineup for the rest of the night, with Superstore at a 1.3; the pun-happy Good Place at a 1.4; Great News with a 1.3 (and an appearance from Tina Fey); and Chicago Fire with a 1.5, up 15 percent from the lead-in.

On the far, far, end of the quality spectrum (that is, if you’re NOT a Packers fan), CBS’ Thursday Night Football game with the Chicago’s NFL Lakefront Team getting thrashed (again) by the Green Bay Packers 35-14 was…somehow the most-watched program of the evening. The game drew 14.6 million viewers total combined for CBS and NFL Network. Among adults 18-49, the game did a 4.8. Despite leading the time-period, these numbers have to be disappointing for the NFL as they are lower than the comparable CBS TNF game from last year (a Patriots-Texans matchup from September 22, 2016 drew 17. 5 million viewers and a 6.1 in adults 18-49.)

In terms of streaming, Amazon (taking over from Twitter, who held the TNF rights last year), served just 1.9 million streams, down from 2.5 million from the first CBS TNF game last year.

Locally, the Bears game drew an 18.9 household rating, up 51 percent from the 12.5 earned last October 20 with the exact same matchup. But keep in mind the game was up against a Los Angeles Dodgers-Chicago Cubs playoff game, drawing a 24.1 rating – not to mention Hillary Clinton ‘s and Donald Trump’s appearance at the Al Smith dinner, which drew 10.3 million viewers nationally across the cable news networks.  Compared to two years ago, the Bears-Packers game – a Thanksgiving night game on NBC where the Bears actually won – had a much stronger 29.8 rating, down 37 percent.

The Bears-Packers matchup in 2013 at Lambeau Field drew a 34.0 local rating and ESPN drew 16.1 million viewers (the Bears won this game, too.) Of note this is the twelfth consecutive year the Bears played in Green Bay in prime-time.

Moreover, Will & Grace’s return drew a 7.8/13 in Chicago, a strong number opposite the Bears. The Bears also faced a Cubs game on WGN-TV – lucky for them they clinched the National League Central title a night earlier, or the local numbers would no doubt be even lower. Plus, the White Sox and Blackhawks were also in action.

In terms of ratings declines, at least the pundits can’t use the national anthem protests this week (no player on neither team knelt) – the Bears were simply awful. Why the team keeps getting prime-time exposure is a mystery – the Bears have to be the worst-run professional franchise in all of sports, even exceeding the Blackhawks in the last years of the Bill Wirtz era. Memo to the NFL: using the rivalry with the Packers – the oldest in football as a selling point to draw viewers – no longer works. Combined with the protests, Kapernick being blackballed, questionable calls, dirty plays (a Bears player committed one Thursday night) and of course the Bears sucking – Chicagoans (wisely) are finding other ways to spend their Sundays.

Moving on to other ratings news, ABC had a strong outing from Grey’s Anatomy with the fourteen-year veteran earning a 2.3 rating in adults 18-49. However, How To Get Away With Murder dropped 52 percent to a 1.1 rating. On Fox, Gotham finished last with an 0.8 rating, but the critically-derided The Orville followed with a 1.1 rating, up 37 percent from its lead-in, a number ratings watchers noted as “decent”.

Even The Orville had a better night than the Bears.

Link: Thursday numbers 

[Editor’s Note: This post updated on 2020-11-28 as the number of consecutive games the Bears played the Packers in prime-time up to this point was incorrect.]