Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The War of 18-49, NCIS


Scheduling history: NCIS has aired its entire run on Tuesdays and always been regularly scheduled at 8/7c. That will finally change in fall 2021, when it moves to Monday for season 19.

See (who saw) how it all began: The year was 2003, and on September 23, the premiere was just a 2.6/8. That's a pretty rough beginning in that day and age, but CBS was not in as good a place back then, so the growth from that premiere number (to a 2.7 in week two and a 2.9 in week three) encouraged the net to stick with NCIS in the early going. While the show would break into the 3's several times during season 1, it was still the low 3's, and American Idol stepped in at midseason and seemed to hurt the show down the stretch, dropping it to a 2.4 (preliminary) for the first-season finale.

The best of times: The show gradually grew to a little below a 4.0 average in season 3, but it appeared for awhile that was the peak, as it dropped in seasons 4 and 5 till it was back around season 2 levels. But then, in season 6, the show found a second wind that is highly improbable for veteran TV drama. Maybe it was the pairing with The Mentalist, maybe it was the heavy syndication on USA Network, and maybe it was something that happened creatively (I'm not a viewer) but it perked up in season 6 and then again in season 7 to average over a 4.0 for the first time ever. Season seven would exceed its highest point of the first six seasons (4.4) on four occasions, peaking with a 4.8/14 for the first two episodes of season 7 (on 9/22/09 and 9/29/09). For the peetooplus crowd, it broke the 20 million viewer plateau thirteen times in season 7 compared to zero such times in seasons 1-6. And its eighth and ninth seasons came down by only a tiny amount, making the show into broadcast TV's #1 drama in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

The worst of times: For 11 seasons, an amazing statistic remained true: the show's lowest raw numbers still came in season one, back when it was called Navy NCIS. It averaged just over a 2.7 demo for the season and went as low as a mere 2.1 demo on 5/4/04. In season 12, NCIS finally hit a new raw low, dropping to a 2.0 for each of the last four episodes of the season. And it fell below 2.0 for the first time on 4/19/16. But on a historical-adjusted basis, the show was still over twice as strong as in season one. It fell to its first 1.0 on 5/7/19, but still aired 17 seasons without going fractional. But the vast majority of season 18 was sub-1.0.

Then vs. now: I knew when I first started digging up NCIS ratings that this would be a fun post, because it's a very topsy-turvy show.  Most primetime shows peak early and then slide downhill into irrelevance.  This one started low and peaked well into the game. Its slight decrease in season eight despite not having to face American Idol for the first time and then the show's first double-digit decline in season ten means we may finally be past the NCIS peak, but not by much. And this late-game resurgence has really been something to behold. In the opening years of its run, it didn't even belong in the ratings conversation with the CSI shows that defined the CBS drama brand. Now, it easily outshines them all.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

12003-04Tuesday 8:002.732.13.1detail
192021-22Monday 9:000.57-30%0.40.7detailB-

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

82010-11157big hit0.80+9%138181157157
92011-12159big hit0.81+1%131182182152
102012-13159big hit0.810%128195195161
132015-16150big hit0.77+4%127182168175


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


yankeesrj12 said...

Wow, I had no idea that NCIS premiered that low! I can't believe how strong this show has become over the years.

Spot said...


Spot said...

One of the most impressive shows history ever. Growing each season (or flat this year) in 18-49+ really is something

Spot said...

For years I predicted that sooner or later this show would beat American Idol as both shows got older. Only a year younger, it has remained incredibly steady in the demo, and it picked up viewership, while Idol is declining rapidly, to the point where last season (2012-13) NCIS became the #1 show on TV for the first time, and this season it is now beating Idol in the 18-49 demo! Some shows age quite gracefully, while others display their decrepitude in more ways than one; and in this case, Idol's top brass have only themselves to blame!

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