Thursday, July 22, 2010

The War of 18-49, Grey's Anatomy


Scheduling history: Grey's Anatomy has been one of TV's strongest shows on two different evenings, starting with two seasons on Sunday after Desperate Housewives. It really became established as a standalone hit when ABC moved it to Thursday night in the fall of 2006.

See (who saw) how it all began: Grey's Anatomy is yet another of those major hits of today that didn't start out as a huge network priority.  It was a midseason replacement for legal drama Boston Legal, which had spent most of the 2004-05 season to date in the 10:00 post-Desperate Housewives slot. Boston Legal's retention of the breakout hit had been far from great, so Grey's Anatomy got a whirl on 3/27/05, when it drew 16.25 million viewers and a 7.2/18 in the demo. Retention out of Desperate Housewives was a reasonable 67% on that evening, which looks better than the two thirds that Brothers & Sisters usually holds, since Housewives had such incredible raw numbers at the time.  But while the 7.2 demo looked pretty solid, here's something fairly amazing; it remained a series low until the middle of season four, for well over two and a half calendar years. The first season finale on 5/22/05 found a whooping 9.8 in the demo.

The best of times: Until the breakout performance by Undercover Boss in 2010, Grey's Anatomy was known as 'the last show to get a long-term boost from the Super Bowl.' The post-SB numbers were substantial: 37.88 million viewers and a 16.5/38 in the demo, easily the best in recent years until Boss got comparable ones in 2010 (38.65m, 16.2/38). And the long-term boost was tangible, both within season 2 and beyond.  It averaged an 8.45 in its pre-Super Bowl season 2 airings and a 10.06 in those after that airing, an increase of nearly 20%, and it went from a really good retainer of the Housewives audience to something that built on the show by noticeable amounts. Then came the somewhat risky move from the Housewives lead-in on Sundays to Thursdays, a historically troublesome night for ABC. But it was another really good season, in fact the strongest average season overall in a regular timeslot. The best run during season 3 was in February 2007, when it posted four straight results with double digit demos, including an 11.6 on 2/22/07 which was the series' highest-rated telecast outside of the post-Super Bowl airing. Overall, the show broke double digits nine times, eight of which came in February; four in February 2006, four in February 2007, and the season 3 premiere in September 2006.

The worst of times: Since its heights in seasons 2 and 3, the show's trend was consistently downward, with each season dropping more than the league average for nearly a decade. But season 11 was impressive, dropping just barely more than league average even in a move to 8/7c. It hit a new series low is a 1.9 on 4/2/15. And it never even fell back to that 1.9 in season 12, growing in A18-49+ for the first time since season three. It's hit raw series lows each of the last four seasons (including a 1.0 on 2/13/20).

Then vs. now: Though Grey's got weaker after its megahit heights, it's still noteworthy that the show significantly slowed its rate of decline, allowing it to run many years longer than its fellow mid-aughts megahits Desperate Housewives and House. Even a decade into its run, it was not that far from being the top-rated drama on broadcast. In fact, it actually got that honor in the official Live+7 rankings for 2013-14, in which Grey's benefits from airing no in-timeslot repeats. I would argue that's an artificial benefit, but it's still an achievement to be close enough for that to make the difference. It was Scandal's heat, rather than Grey's cooling, that got the show its first timeslot downgrade in 2014-15. It moved to ABC's long-troubled Thursday 8/7c hour so the network could launch a new Shonda Rhimes drama after Scandal, but it has held up exceptionally well in that transition.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

1Spring 2005Sunday 10:
32006-07Thursday 9:009.32+2%7.611.6detail
112014-15Thursday 8:002.38-12%1.93.1detailB+
162019-20Thu 8:00, Thu 9:001.28-18%1.01.5detailB
172020-21Thursday 9:001.02-20%0.71.3detailB+

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

1Spring 2005199big hit0.85177241177241
52008-09190big hit0.81-12%166246246196
62009-10171big hit0.73-10%124238238192
72010-11161big hit0.69-6%126212212142
82011-12151big hit0.64-6%119190174174
122015-16153big hit0.65+8%134194194160
132016-17168big hit0.72+10%140213200159
142017-18176big hit0.75+5%134214214173
152018-19164big hit0.70-7%135200197138
162019-20156big hit0.66-5%128185185175
172020-21158big hit0.67+1%110209209130

AVERAGE:168big hit

The War of 18-49 chronicles the ratings history of veteran primetime series. For more, see the Index.


Spot said...

"It'll look to ride that momentum into its seventh season as the Thursday centerpiece this fall."

I think you meant to write "into its eighth season".

Spot said...

Sorry for not getting back to you on this! I meant it as "seventh season as the Thursday centerpiece," as in two seasons on Sunday and seven on Thursday. I can see that was rather confusingly written.

Spot said...

Oh, that makes sense! :-)

Spot said...

Wow, Grey's never peaked above Desperate Housewives. Interesting, cause I always thought Grey's was a bigger hit than Housewives.

Still, very impressive numbers, and its great that its slowed down its year-to-year drops.

Spot said...

1) The high point for season one was a 9.8, not an 8.5
2) The high point for season two was an 11.3, not an 11.2
3) The high point for season four was an 8.8, not a 9.1
4) "But since its heights in seasons 2 and 3, the show's trend has been consistently downward, which each season dropping more than the league average." Did you mean "[...], with each season dropping more than the league average"?

Spot said...

Thanks. I recently made some apparently rather buggy attempts to clean up my formulas.

Spot said...

Grey's Anatomy actually moved to Thursday Nights in the fall of 2006 not 2007.

Spot said...


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