Scheduling history: NCIS has aired its entire 210-episode run on Tuesdays and always been regularly scheduled at 8/7c.
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 (at least compared to other networks), 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 have come back down by only a tiny amount.
The worst of times: The worst this show did by far was in season 1, back when it was called Navy NCIS. It averaged just over a 2.7 demo for the season and really got into some dire territory down the stretch of season one. It got as low as a mere 2.1 demo on 5/4/04.
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 another in season nine 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:
|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.