DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (ABC)
Why post this on Sunday? Desperate Housewives aired its entire 180-episode run on Sunday night and, except for the second half of a handful of two-hour episodes, in the 9:00 hour.
See (who saw) how it all began: Less than two weeks removed from a pretty darn strong 6.8 premiere for Lost, the good news got even better for previously embattled ABC, as Desperate Housewives premiered with 21.64 million viewers and an 8.9/21 in A18-49 on 10/3/04. The week two news was quite promising as it dropped 3% to an 8.6 in the demo, but then it took off to even greater heights. First a 9.5 in week three, then into double digits in week six.
The best of times: This show was pretty much a complete monster in its entire first two seasons, but it was at its strongest at the end of season 1 and beginning of season 2, which saw an amazing twenty straight episodes with double digit demos. (And that's not counting a clip show on 4/24/05 which got a 10.1!) Overall, 27 episodes of the show broke the 10.0 threshold in those first two seasons (and zero since). The peak was the season 1 finale on 5/22/05, which got 30.62 million viewers (the only airing above the 30 million mark) and a 13.4/31 in the demo.
The worst of times: Desperate Housewives has had a similar path to Grey's Anatomy, which had a huge peak and has uniformly dropped around 20% of its demo every year since. The only big difference is that Desperate's peak years were a little earlier. In the second half of Desperate Housewives' run, the show dropped almost exactly 20% every single year. As the show aged, it became less resilient against the big event TV of Sunday night, and this was most obvious when the show found series lows with 6.40 million viewers and a 1.8 demo against the huge Grammy awards on 2/12/12.
Then vs. now: I can't say enough what a phenomenon this show was out of the gate. And unlike most other huge dramas of late, Housewives was notable for its ability to launch other new shows; lead-outs Boston Legal, Grey's Anatomy and Brothers & Sisters all ran at least five seasons. But average-wise, this show dropped more than two thirds from its first season through its last. The people that made this show such a beast steadily abandoned ship year after year. That's just how it goes for once-huge serialized shows. The Housewives stayed put on Sunday at 9:00 for their whole run, but by season eight they weren't even ABC's all-star of Sunday night, as the show was significantly outshone by newbie Once Upon a Time in 2011-12.
Adults 18-49 info by season:
Historical-adjusted ratings by season:
For more on The War of 18-49, my look at the history of primetime TV's veteran shows, see the Index.