Sunday, August 22, 2010

The War of 18-49, Family Guy


Scheduling history: Family Guy aired all over the place during its initial run, but since its resurrection in 2005, it's aired exclusively on Sunday night. It was always at 9/8c until a move to 8:30 late in the 2013-14 to accommodate Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, but it's been back at 9/8c starting with fall 2014.

See (who saw) how it all began:  I know that it premiered after the Super Bowl on 1/31/99 with an 11.5 demo, made its official premiere on 4/11/99 with a 7.1 demo, but it got much worse from there. What few data points I do have from that run saw mostly high-2's in the summer of 2001 and mostly low-2's when thrown into a very difficult Thursday slot during the 2001-02 regular season. In other words, aside from very early on, the show was far weaker Plus-wise than in any season post-revival.

The best of times: Family Guy was consistent for many years after its return, slowly becoming stronger in Plus. Its best season of 2007-08 was a little inflated because the writer's strike allowed it to air a disproportionately high percentage of its episodes in the fall, when the animation block is always much stronger. Still, that was the only season that broke a 5.0 relatively often, in seven half-hours total vs. only once or twice in most other seasons. It still hasn't come anywhere near the 11.5 it did post-Super Bowl in 1999 or even the 7.1 it found in its first episode a couple months later, but it did peak at a 5.6 demo for the one-hour Star Wars parody on 9/23/07.

The worst of times: The worst of times was obviously the nebulous early-2000s run, in which the show performed worse than it has since its revival. My lowest point is a 1.8 on 12/6/01, and it was usually in the low-2's during that season, when it was airing on Thursdays opposite Friends and Survivor. It took until the 2012-13 season to get back into that low-2's range, and of course those numbers were far more valuable by then. It didn't go below the 1.8 again until 2014-15, when it got all the way down to a 1.2 opposite the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special on 2/15/15. It's become a markedly weaker show in the last three years or so, and went fractional for the first time with a 0.9 against the Grammys on 2/12/17.

Then vs. now: The story of Family Guy is highly improbable on a couple different levels.  First, there's the revival itself. After a hiatus of more than three years, that's a pretty rare occurrence in its own right. When it does it happen, it will usually just be with animated shows, for logistical reasons. But it's not unheard of, as another former Fox toon in Futurama has recently been resurrected by Comedy Central for originals. It's also highly improbable for a show to get axed, then get revived, then become a bonafide broadcast hit after not being one previously. But that's also not unheard of... see JAG in the '90s for an example of that, and that case also involved a network switch (from NBC to CBS). What's so amazing about Family Guy is that both those things happened: it got axed, stayed off for three years, then came back and then became a hit. That kind of thing almost defies the imagination. Plenty of shows have loyal fanbases that discover the show after it's axed and buy DVDs, but not many can actually turn the show around on this kind of scale. Futurama, for example, ain't exactly lighting the world on fire on Comedy Central, even though it's hung around for a few seasons. But Family Guy, once a show that Fox could afford to get rid of, is now a pretty massive success, with strong syndicated results on TBS and having supplanted The Simpsons in recent years to become the star of the Fox animation block in first-run. There aren't a whole lot of shows that are still thriving a dozen years after being in legitimate danger of cancellation, but Family Guy is one of them.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

42001-02Wed 9:30, Thu 8:002.401.83.1
5Summer 2005Sunday 9:003.973.05.8detail
142013-14Sun 9:00, Sun 8:302.34-13%2.03.1detailB-
152014-15Sunday 9:002.13-9%1.24.6detailC-
202019-20Sunday 9:300.71-31%0.51.2detailC-

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

5Summer 200598hit(sum)0.637414214286


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

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