LAW & ORDER: SVU (NBC)
Scheduling history: Law & Order: SVU has the relatively rare distinction of airing for 3+ seasons on three different nights. Following a brief Monday stint at the beginning of the series, it aired for 3.5 seasons on Friday, another six during its peak years on Tuesday. Then it moved to Wednesday, and as of season 17, it's actually been on that night longer than any other.
See (who saw) how it all began: Law & Order: SVU, the first spinoff in the Law & Order franchise, kicked off on 9/20/99 with a 5.4 in adults 18-49. It then dropped 9% to a 4.9 demo in week two, then rebounded to a 5.0 and 5.4 the next two weeks. My data is limited on season 1, but it looks like most of season 1 fell in the 4's and 5's.
The best of times: For the first half of the aughts, SVU was probably the most consistent show on TV, with seasons 2-7 all averaging within a very tight 10% range. I find most of those seasons pretty hard to distinguish, as they uniformly averaged in the low to mid 5's and would occasionally creep up into the 6's. But one particular result stands out from the rest, and that's the season 5 finale on 5/18/04. That airing found 18.36 million viewers and a 7.4/19 demo, more than 10% ahead of the show's next highest result.
The worst of times: But starting with the 2006-07 season, primetime's banner of consistency headed consistently downward, with four 15%+ declines in a six-season span. Leaving its longtime Tuesday 10pm timeslot and its solid Biggest Loser lead-in certainly didn't help matters, and neither did facing Criminal Minds, but the show didn't even recover that much in its returns to 10:00. However, even at its depressed numbers, SVU probably deserves some of the credit for CSI: NY's banishment to Friday, as that show took a real hit in the second half of 2009-10 when it had to face SVU at 10:00. SVU then took another huge hit in 2011-12, its first season without Christopher Meloni. 13 eps in season 13 went below 2.0 vs. none in the first twelve seasons, and almost all of the 2012-13 season was below that mark. It's had some rather impressive growth since then, but it still set a new raw numbers low in season 17: a 1.1 in its return from hiatus on 5/4/16.
Then vs. now: This post was a real learning experience for me. I always thought SVU must have been bigger in the past, since in most of my memory as a ratings follower, it always crushed the mothership L&O. But in fact, it was never consistently bigger than the low to mid 5's, while L&O was much bigger early in the 2000s. It didn't start rating higher than the mothership until season 6. Now, it's lasted for over a half-decade since the mothership's end, and it remains one of NBC's most valuable scripted properties (arguably the single most valuable). It's helped launch Chicago Fire and Chicago PD while taking the hit in one of primetime's toughest timeslots, and has actually managed to carve out some positive momentum in its own ratings at the same time.
Adults 18-49 info by season:
|1||1999-00||Mon 9:00, Fri 10:00||detail|
|11||2009-10||Wed 9:00, Wed 10:00||2.68||-25%||2.0||3.3||detail|
|12||2010-11||Wed 9:00, Wed 10:00||2.57||-4%||2.0||3.2||detail||B+|
Historical-adjusted ratings by season:
For more on The War of 18-49, my look at the history of primetime TV's veteran shows, see the Index.