After Avoiding the Sophomore Slump, This Is Us Is NBC’s Best Hope to Maintain Its Demo Lead

The network didn’t consider relocating the show to Thursday

This Is Us was the highest-rated entertainment broadcast series in the adults 18–49 demographic last season, with a 5.4 rating. Annie Leibovitz for NBC
Headshot of Jason Lynch

This Is Us kicked off its second season last year with a bit of a stumble, courtesy of NBC: the network announced at its 2017 upfront that the show would move to Thursdays, only to backtrack two weeks later. But then the drama went on to do something that few recent breakout freshman series have accomplished: it became an even bigger hit in Season 2, where it was the highest-rated entertainment broadcast series in the adults 18-49 demographic last season, with a 5.4 rating.

After avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump, This Is Us returns tonight for Season 3, and NBC—which won’t have the Super Bowl, Winter Olympics or Thursday Night Football to help inflate it this season—will be counting on the show to help keep it on top in the 18-49 demo for what would be the third straight season.

Robert Greenblatt, in an interview before he announced yesterday that he was stepping down as NBC Entertainment chairman after seven years, said that This Is Us shows the power of broadcast TV, which is “the only place where you can gather a huge group of people together for a shared experience,” he said. “When 12 to 14 million people watch America’s Got Talent in the summer, or more than that watch This Is Us in the fall or spring, that’s an extraordinary cultural achievement.”

While Greenblatt scuttled the show’s Thursday move last year after realizing the extent to which Thursday Night Football would disrupt the show’s narrative arc, he didn’t consider relocating the show to Thursday this season, after the network lost Thursday Night Football to Fox.

“We felt, by this point, that it’s a Tuesday staple, for I’m happy to say a large part of the country. We also got some nice traction on Thursday with Will & Grace, and The Good Place is really coming into its own,” said Greenblatt. “So we thought, rather than jumble the cards again, let’s keep a good thing going on Tuesday and let’s build more of a good thing on Thursday. We’re really excited about putting [Law & Order:] SVU on Thursday at 10, which is a great thing for that night also. There’s a lot to be said for stability on your schedule.”

As for how the show was able to avoid stumbling in Season 2, “we have extraordinary writers and [creator] Dan Fogelman is just the greatest sort of visionary,” said Greenblatt. “I haven’t seen a creator who’s as far advanced in plotting a series than he is. He’s weaving in elements from seasons four, five and six, which haven’t even been completely conceived yet. But he knows where all these stories are going.”

Fogelman “knew from the beginning of the first season what the second season was meant to be: the year of what happened to [Milo Ventimiglia’s character] Jack, and his death. We had the Super Bowl [last season] and we knew early on we were going to make that the ultimate episode in the middle of the season,” said Greenblatt. “So there were a couple of things that came together that made Season 2 as anticipated as that first season was.”

NBC thinks the show’s momentum will continue this season. “I feel very bullish about Season 3 for a lot of reasons, which will remain sort of mysterious because I don’t want to give anything away,” said Greenblatt. “But there’s some extraordinary things he’s going to do this year.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.