No broadcast network throws around the term “hit” as liberally as The CW. After all, its promotional department spent all summer applying that term for a show that set a new standard for low ratings (and did so with a straight face, no less). But what you have to understand about The CW’s hyperbolic advertising language is that it operates on an entirely separate set of standards from those of the four other major American broadcast outlets. This is the network that was essentially duct-taped together from leftovers of the low-ratings-plagued UPN and the only-popular-with-the-youth WB—so, when a new CW series bests both ABC and NBC among women ages 18 to 34, it’s a big deal. Even if those are the types of numbers that would get Arrow yanked from faster than you can say, “See, she’s this New York lawyer, but she grew up in New Jersey…”
And so 4 million Nielsen households are a cause for celebration on the level of Oliver Queen’s return to Star(ling) City, a number good enough for The CW’s biggest first bow since the debut of The Vampire Diaries. These kinds of numbers are especially important to the network as it goes through its awkward, adolescent growing pains, abandoning its fixation on the well-groomed progeny of the insanely rich for an attraction to superheroes with incredible abs (and a tortured backstory). As Entertainment Weekly notes, Arrow provided The CW with a night-long shot in the arm, spurring Supernatural to its best ratings in two years.
The news is less positive for ABC’s Nashville this morning, if only because that network’s means of comparison are shows that large numbers of people actually watch. Nashville’s 9 million viewers and 2.8 rating in the key 18-49 demographic are the types of “satisfactory” marks that run a dividing line between ratings watchers, like a long expanse of leather sofa separating Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere. But the chronicle of an industry and an American city in flux would be a mega-hit in the eyes of CW executives, as would the Dick Wolf-produced drama it “smothered” (or was “engulfed by,” depending on your take) last night: Chicago Fire seductively peeled off its firefighter’s uniform in front of 6.4 million viewers, good for a 1.9 18-49 rating. Nashville’s ratings aren’t as high as you might expect for a series airing after ABC’s strong bloc of Wednesday night comedies—or for the timeslot that helped launch Revenge last season—but they’re also not a reason to weep for the promising series’ future. Unless you’re looking for an excuse to inspire Panettiere’s character to sing another song that references mascara, that is.