That Was the Week That Was

posted Feb 18, 2012, 5:15 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Feb 18, 2012, 5:15 PM ]

HOUSE

It was announced earlier this week that the FOX series House will be ending its run after this season, its eighth, with the finale scheduled for May 21.

Well-received by both critics and audiences since its 2004 premiere, the drama spent each of its first six seasons ranked in Nielsen’s Top 25 with four in the Top 20 and three in the Top 10. The show peaked at #5 for the 2006-2007 TV season with an average of almost 20 million viewers.

House was nominated for four Emmys as Outstanding Drama Series from 2006-2009. While the show never won, the first season episode “Three Stories” won for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series and the two-part fourth season finale “House’s Head” won for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series.

Despite switching back and forth between Monday and Tuesday time slots, House had been a solid utility player for FOX until ratings started to decline last season as they continue to do so this season.

I still like the show, but for the sake of its legacy, I'm very glad there won't be a ninth season.

 

THE NUMBER OF COMPLETION

Desperate Housewives Creator and Executive Producer Marc Cherry should have stuck to his original plan of ending the show after its seventh season instead of signing up for an eighth with an option for a ninth.

The death of Whitney Houston the afternoon before last week’s Grammy telecast likely inflated viewership but even if ratings came in at or above average, why would ABC schedule a new episode of the fading Desperate Housewives opposite them? I cannot attest to the viewership overlap between the two programs but the Grammys aren’t so male-skewing that there wouldn’t be one.

The result was 6.3 million viewers, a new low for the series and less than one-third of its first season height when the show averaged almost 24 million viewers each week. 

Such was the popularity of Desperate Housewives that even the Golden Globes took a significant ratings hit when they aired opposite each other in 2005. Ironically, the show won a Golden Globe for Best Series – Comedy or Musical that night. For the next two years, the Golden Globes aired on the third Monday in January instead of the third Sunday. 

Though decline is expected for shows that breakout so massively in its first season and have long runs, it’s still very hard to take a look at the numbers of its most recent episode without thinking about what a juggernaut it once was.

ABC must think it still is.

 

THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT THE 2004/2005 SEASON

After the House announcement, I read a blurb about how many hit shows came out of the 2004-2005 TV season during which the show premiered. I hadn’t considered this before, but that season has turned out to be one of the most storied in television history.

In these days of lazy and derivative program development, it’s great when a network can generate one hit in a TV season. It’s amazing when you have two. Three has become unheard of but ABC somehow managed that. In addition to the aforementioned breakout hit Desperate Housewives, ABC had further success with Lost and Grey’s Anatomy while FOX had the aforementioned House and NBC showed back up to the Thursday night rodeo with the US adaptation of the BBC’s The Office.

Lost drew 18 million viewers for its premiere and was a Top 20 hit for three of its first four seasons (it ranked 25th in its third season). For that first season, the show won Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series in 2005.

Grey’s Anatomy, nominated for the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy in 2006 and 2007, launched in March 2005 after Desperate Housewives on Sunday nights. The series premiere drew over 16 million viewers and averaged over 18 million by the end of the season, coming in at #9 in the Nielsen rankings – five slots below Housewives which came in at #4.

Grey’s immediate success sent time slot predecessor Boston Legal (which had also premiered in 2004 but to lesser ratings success) to Tuesday nights. In 2006, the show’s time slot was shifted to Thursday nights, where it was to compete with CSI on CBS and serve as the lead-out for the promising new dramedy Ugly Betty.

Grey’s held its own against the ratings powerhouse and retained its Top 10 status, which it held for each of its first four seasons. The show remained a Top 20 hit for another two seasons, but ranked #31 last season -- its seventh. Like Housewives, it continues to decline this season. Unlike Housewives, it will likely be renewed for a ninth as it remains a valuable property for ABC.

While The Office has never cracked the Top 50 in the Nielsen rankings, it bears mentioning for its successful adaptation from the UK version (remember Coupling?) and its strength in the elusive A1834 and M1834 demos.

Like Grey’s, The Office was a midseason entry. While it wasn’t an immediate hit (coming in at #102 in the Nielsen ratings for its abbreviated first season), the series broke out in its second season. Not only did it become the tentpole for NBC’s shadow-of-its-former-self Thursday night lineup, but it also won the Emmy as Outstanding Comedy Series in 2006 for that breakout season.

While all five series have had their ebbs and flows and their heights and declines, their places in television history and their contributions to popular culture can never be discounted. The fact that they all come out of that 2004-2005 TV season makes for a remarkable year for television that won’t likely be replicated anytime soon.

And what about UPN's Veronica Mars (pictured)? The show was highly popular amongst a cultish set and quite visible on the pop culture radar. Perhaps because of the limitations of the network on which it aired, Veronica Mars never had much ratings success (even by UPN standards) and was cancelled after three seasons. 


WHY NBC ALWAYS MAKES ME SLAP MY HAND AGAINST MY HEAD

After a successful post-Super Bowl airing and increased ratings for the subsequent episodes, NBC announced plans to moveforward with a fall run of The Voice.

I doubt this will happen since Cristina Aguilera has already signed up for it and the remaining judges are close to doing the same, but I sincerely hope NBC abandons these plans.

With the ratings the show is currently generating, NBC needs to protect this property, not "Millionaire" it into the ground. They should learn from ABC, who had the top-rated show of the 1999-2000 season, then aired it upwards to four times per week and hastened its decline.

NBC should learn from FOX, which had a solid summer alternative for their monster hit American Idol in So You Think You Can Dance until airing a summer and a lower-rated fall edition in 2009. This move was surprising because FOX managed to avoid doing the same with American IdolTwo even lower-rated editions followed and it was recently announced that this summer’s ninth season will be reduced from two nights to one. 

NBC should learn from themselves. They had a promising summer reality-competition franchise in Last Comic Standing until airing a summer and a fall edition on either side of the Summer Olympics in 2004. After a nearly two-year hiatus, the show returned for four more lower-rated summer editions, each with a different host.

America’s Got Talent continues to do well, but NBC is sorely in need of another hit – even if it has to be another competition series since they can’t seem to remember how to create scripted hits. The Voice has the makings of that. With Betty White’s Off Their Rockers in the pipeline, there’s no reason to ruin a potentially successful franchise because of lazy program development.


IS THIS THE YEAR? 

For the last eight seasons, American Idol has topped the Nielsen ratings charts. For each of the last few years, pundits have predicted its inevitable decline. While the reality-competition show is experiencing ratings lows of just above 20 million viewers, this has so far still been enough to maintain its top ranking.

However, as Idol continues its decline in its eleventh season, NCIS remains stronger than ever in its ninth. I'm wondering if NCIS can finally top Idol this season.

A Nielsen Top 30 show since its 2003 launch on CBS, NCIS rose to the Top 25 in its second season, made it to the Top 15 in its fifth season and finally hit the Top 5 in its sixth season, where it remains firmly entrenched. Whereas many shows decline at this point of their run, NCIS continues to buck that trend and is averaging almost 20 million viewers so far this season.

For each of the last two seasons of its unprecedented reign, Idol has averaged just over 20 million viewers. While Idol viewership tends to be higher during the audition stages, its ratings thereafter depend more on the strength of the Top 12. In recent years, interest in them has waned, leading to declines throughout the season and then an uptick by the finale.

But despite the competition, NCIS maintains an unheard of consistency against the ratings powerhouse to the point that now the ratings race could become very interesting by season’s end.

It will be close. I’m on Team NCIS. I don’t watch the show but I just want something to topple Idol for the first time in almost a decade. 


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