ABC's The Good Doctor and NBC's This is Us, two of TV's most popular shows, are also the top picks for catch-up viewing on demand, according to an exclusive tally from Comcast, the cable-TV giant.

Freddie Highmore as Shaun on 'The Good Doctor.'

But the list gets weirder from there: Less-popular series such as FX's American Horror Story and Adult Swim's Rick and Morty, along with NBC's Will & Grace, round out the list of top 5 VOD titles ranked by current-season episodes, Comcast says, citing data from Rentrak, a research firm.

Other top picks among Comcast subscribers are a mixed bag, ranging from Ken Burns' PBS docuseries The Vietnam War to Outlander and The Orville.

Steve Meyer, VP strategy, research and analytics at Comcast, which counts more than 20 million subscribers, says VOD has become a more popular way to catch up on new shows, as most networks offer all previously aired episodes from the current season, hoping that fans will become loyal viewers.  

Adult Swim's 'Rick and Morty' was one of fall's top TV picks for on-demand viewers, and the top pick in Denver.

The need for catch-up, whether cable on demand or through streaming apps, has grown as the late September "premiere week" has become less of a must-see event with more competition. Nielsen estimates that 8% of TV viewing in homes without DVRs was on-demand in October, up from 2% in October 2013. 

"You've got a lot of people discovering content after it's out there, by word of mouth," Meyer says.

Many of the same new shows that viewers are talking about, according to studies by Engagement Labs, show up on the list of top VOD titles, including The Good Doctor and Will & Grace. Among returning favorites, This is Us remains a top pick.

"We're definitely seeing a theme of more feel-good melodrama," Meyer says. "It's a different tone than some of the apocalyptic, darker shows that even going back two years ago were completely dominating the list" of popular on-demand titles.

Other findings:

  • On-demand and TV audiences like different shows. Among newcomers, Fox's The Orville and The Gifted, along with HBO's The Deuce, rank much higher in the on-demand chart than in ratings, while Good Doctor is at or near the top in both lists, a sign of a true breakout hit.
  • CBS dramas, which account for eight of the top 25 shows as ranked by Nielsen, are entirely absent from the on-demand viewing chart. Why? Fewer serialized shows, which tend to be more popular on VOD, and the network's strategy (along with CW's) to make only the few most recent episodes available on cable, rather than the entire season.  "The catch-up on their shows is a lot lower." Meyer says.
  • This is Us is still drawing new fans. During each of the first three weeks of the NBC drama's second season, 700,000 or more views of first-season episodes were requested in Comcast homes.
  • Rankings for 15 major cities served by Comcast reveal that This is Us is the top on-demand pick in just three — Baltimore, Boston and Washington — but not in Pittsburgh, where the show is set.  Good Doctor was No. 1 or 2 in all but Washington, where it ranks only eighth. And Adult Swim's Rick and Morty was the top on-demand choice in Denver.
  • Chicago PD appears only in the top 20 list for Chicago; Broad City ranked high only in Washington; and Star appears only in the Baltimore list. 
Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), left, and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) face life as a team, working together to ease the arrival of foster daughter Deja on NBC's 'This Is Us.'

 

Top shows on demand

  1. The Good Doctor (ABC)
  2. This is Us (NBC) 
  3. American Horror Story: Cult (FX)
  4. Rick and Morty (ADSM)
  5. Will & Grace (NBC)
  6. The Orville (Fox)
  7. The Vietnam War (PBS)
  8. Outlander (Starz)
  9. The Deuce (HBO)
  10. The Voice (NBC)
  11. The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  12. Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
  13. Dancing With the Stars (ABC)
  14. Teen Mom (MTV)
  15. Ray Donovan (Showtime)
  16. Empire (Fox)
  17. The Gifted (Fox)
  18. Law & Order True Crime (NBC)
  19. Designated Survivor (ABC)
  20. Project Runway (Lifetime) 

Views of current-season episodes in homes served by Comcast from 9/18-10/31/17. Excludes viewing on YouTube and Netflix. Source; Rentrak