GREY'S ANATOMY (ABC)
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 2007.
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 last season, 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: But since its heights in seasons 2 and 3, the show's trend has been consistent - consistently bad. The season 8 average was less than 40% of the season 3 average, and each season since the fourth has seen a double-digit year-to-year drop. The worst it got in season 8 was a 2.8 demo on 4/5/11, barely a fourth of the numbers it's gotten for its highest-rated regularly scheduled eps.
Then vs. now: This show never dropped below a 7.0 demo in its first three and a half seasons. It's no longer within striking distance of those numbers, but this is one of those shows that had a hell of a long way to fall, and it's still got a ways to go before we start talking about the end of Grey's Anatomy. As its fellow mid-aughts megahits House and Desperate Housewives both wrapped up their runs in spring 2012, Grey's Anatomy rose back into the mid-3's and then above 4.0, improbably making it once again TV's most formidable drama. It'll look to ride that momentum into its seventh season as the Thursday centerpiece this fall.
Adults 18-49 info by season:
|Premiere||Average||Finale||P -> F|
For more on The War of 18-49, my look at the history of primetime TV's veteran shows, see the Index.