Why post this on Thursday? ER aired almost all of its 15-season run on Thursday, though I'm not 100% sure what all the exceptions were. It did air its pilot on a Monday night (9/19/94).
See (who saw) how it all began: ER began on 9/19/94, its only Monday airing, with 23.8 million viewers and a 9.9/23 in the demo, and then perked way up three nights later when it pulled an 11.9/31 in A18-49. But that's about all I know about season 1, as ER is going to be one of three shows (along with The Simpsons and Law & Order) whose run began long before when I started digging up data. Averages on Classic TV Hits put the season 1 average at a little over 19 million total viewers, but that number almost certainly includes repeats.
The best of times: Again, I'm missing literally a half decade of data on this show, so it's hard to say for sure, but Classic TV Hits says the show peaked in the low 25 millions in seasons 5 and 6, and while I only have about half the info on season 6, that is certainly the strongest season of data that I have. Still, the show remained pretty unstoppable for quite awhile, with no single-digit demo outing out of anything I have from seasons 6-8, and staying over a double digit average in seasons 9 and 10. The highest-rated airing ever was seen by 47.8 million viewers and scored a 25.8/57 in A18-49 on 5/14/98. It immediately followed the series finale of Seinfeld on that night.
The worst of times: But it was as the second decade of ER began that the wheels finally came off. In the next four seasons after 2003-04 (perhaps not coincidentally also the season that Must See TV companion Friends ended), the declines were steep each year: -19%, -25%, -19%, and -30%. That adds up pretty quickly. The show had gone from a chart-topper to very middle of the road by the 2007-08 season, but the final season announcement and the big finale number managed to stop the bleeding in the 15th season, letting the show go out with some degree of dignity.
Then vs. now: This is the first show I've covered that truly spans a generation. Consider the series finale, which got a 6.0 demo on 4/2/09. Now, this was about an 85% uptick over the rest of that final season, which averaged a 3.25, and a 6.0 is a pretty stout Nielsen in 2009. But it's less than half of what the early to middle seasons of the show averaged, and less than a fourth of the series high young adult rating in 1998. And to go with those lame series high vs. series low comparisons I like doing: that 25.8 series high demo was about ten times the 2.6 demo the show achieved a few times in the middle of the final season. It goes to show how far the show fell, but it also goes to show just how incredibly strong it was that it could fall that far percentage-wise and keep sticking around. (But I gotta note that the steep decline of NBC as a network didn't hurt those renewal decisions, either.)
Adults 18-49 info by season:
Series premiere on 9/19/94: 23.8 million viewers, 9.9/23 A18-49
Thursday 10pm premiere on 9/22/94: 23.0 million viewers, 11.9/31 A18-49
Season 4 premiere on 9/25/97: 42.7 million viewers, 23.3/55 A18-49
Season 4 finale on 5/14/98: 47.8 million viewers, 25.8/57 A18-49
Season 5 premiere on 9/24/98: 17.0/43 A18-49
Historical-adjusted ratings by season:
|AVERAGE (2001-09):||187||big hit|
*- This show was upgraded to "icon" based on projected A18-49+ totals from the missing seasons.
For more on The War of 18-49, my look at the history of primetime TV's veteran shows, see the Index.