After CBS' Tracker Became A Huge Ratings Hit, Justin Hartley Reflects On His 'Grueling' Schedule In Season 1

 Justin Hartley in Tracker Season 1.
Justin Hartley in Tracker Season 1.

Summer hiatus has started for network television's biggest shows, but no series had as successful a spring as CBS' Tracker. With Justin Hartley's first series regular gig since the end of This Is Us, the new drama rode a post-Super Bowl premiere slot to an early renewal for Season 2 and some massive ratings. The actor spoke with CinemaBlend about the show's early success and his intense schedule.

Just days after the Season 1 finale dropped a Shaw family bombshell on Colter, CBS announced that Tracker became the #1 non-sports show on television for the 2023-2024 TV season with an average 11.58 million viewers per episode and upward of 81 million viewers from its debut in February. This was the first instance of a freshman show ranking at #1 since Survivor did so back in the 2000-2001 season. Talk about some great news on the Tracker front following the finale!

Of course, nobody had to wait until after the finale to learn how well Tracker was doing in the ratings. When I spoke with Justin Hartley about his first season as Colter Shaw, he opened up regarding whether the early Season 2 renewal – which was after only four episodes had aired – affected the plans for how Season 1 could end, saying:

Just because we were doing well in the ratings, I don't think we ever had a question of whether or not we were getting picked up. I mean, look, they say don't cash the check until the ink is dry or whatever... I never personally thought we were in danger of not being picked up, but you never know until they tell you. I love that we got the early renewal because I think it energizes the crew, and it certainly energized me. My schedule was grueling, and I was like, 'Okay, this is awesome. Now we're in it for the long haul.'

Justin Hartley didn't have to wait too long to learn that working his "grueling" schedule paid off in the form of being picked up for Season 2. It energized him as an actor, but did it affect the writing since the writers would be able to plan ahead for the Season 1 finale and a second season? The star said:

I don't know about the finale. That's a question for Elwood [Reid] and the writers, but I think it allows them more time to tell stories than just going 'Okay, we have to tell this story in eight lines.' It's like, 'No, you can take eight weeks if you want because we have time.' So I think it allows for richer storytelling, personally, but I guess that's a question for the writers. They can be like, 'Justin is so full of shit. It doesn't change anything.' But I feel like it does a little bit.

It's no surprise that Hartley had an intense schedule on Tracker, and not just because he's the sole leading man this time around rather than one of several leads like on This Is Us. In addition to starring in CBS' mega hit, he is an executive producer. When I asked what it has been like for him starring as well as producing, he said:

You know, it's been great. I've learned a lot. I've learned a lot from the best, having Ken [Olin] as sort of a mentor in learning. Like, Ken will show you what to do, but he'll also kind of warn you what not to do. He's not shy about saying, 'Well, these are the mistakes that I made. Don't do this.' Or 'This is what I wish I would have done earlier [so] start doing it now.' He's very much an open book when it comes to that stuff, so I'm a lucky guy to work with him for sure. I've learned a ton and hopefully I'm getting better and better at it. I'd like to think that I'm competent at it, hopefully. [laughs] But getting better every day.

Executive producer Ken Olin certainly had a list of hit shows to his name before Tracker, including Alias, Brothers & Sisters, and This Is Us. It's no wonder he has had some expertise to impart on Justin Hartley! And those are only two of the Tracker contributers who came to the show with experience from This Is Us. Jon Huertas stepped behind the camera to direct an episode, and Jennifer Morrison was the central guest star for the Season 1 finale.

As for what to expect from Season 2, Tracker won't return with new episodes in the 2024 TV schedule until the fall, although there are plenty of summer options to check out. Based on how Season 1 ended, though, I'm taking heart with what Justin Hartley told us about casting Jensen Ackles as Russell Shaw and Melissa Roxburgh's comments about returning as Dory Shaw. For now, you can always revisit every episode of the show so far streaming with a Paramount+ subscription.