Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The War of 18-49, Law & Order


Why post this on Wednesday? Law & Order aired sixteen of its twenty total seasons on Wednesdays at 10/9c, the only exceptions being the first two seasons (Tuesday), the 17th season (Friday), and the 20th season (Friday and Monday).

See (who saw) how it all began: Sadly, it's one of three shows that's too old for my ratings digging skillz, so about the first decade of the show's run is mostly a mystery for me from an adults 18-49 standpoint. TVTango says the series premiere got 14 million viewers, and there's a ton of household info there that I won't reproduce here, but suffice to say it looks like the early aughts are reasonably close to being at the show's peak performance. So I can sorta say that maybe, just maybe...

The best of times: ...the best of times were in the early 2000's, when the show was averaging slightly north of a 7.0 demo in originals based on my limited data. An article I read for the 5/16/01 rating said that the show's 9.2/24 A18-49 rating on that evening was a series high, and my guess is that it remained the series high. So this was certainly never nearly as big as long-running Thursday counterpart ER, which had quite a few seasons that averaged higher than L&O's 9.2 peak. The best run of episodes was the end of that 2000-01 season (season 11) and the beginning of season 12, which was really the only time I have the show breaking an 8.0 demo with any regularity.

The worst of times: Starting with around season 13 (2002-03), the show pretty much divebombed, taking double-digit percentage drops almost every season and actually getting shoved out of its historic Wednesday timeslot to Friday for the 2006-07 season. The show does deserve some credit for its one year of recovery in Season 18, when it got moved back to Wednesday during midseason 2008, but a lot of its achievements during that season came against all repeats on its writer's strike-hampered opponents. And just two years later, it had dropped a staggering 48% from that season 18 average. Its series low was a pretty pathetic 1.2 demo for the first two eps of season 20 on 9/25/09 and 10/2/09.

Then vs. now: After the bad start on Friday in season 20, it rose into the mid-1's, not a bad Nielsen for a Friday player. Combined with a widely quoted Angela Bromstad line about how she didn't want to be the person to deny Law & Order its record, most people felt it would return in 2010-11 for a 21st season. That would've put it past Gunsmoke for most seasons for a primetime drama. Instead, as is so often the case, money talked, and they weren't able to get a suitable financial situation in place to bring the show back. It's easy to see why this was a struggle, as the demo ratings for season 20 were less than a fourth of what they'd been nearly a decade ago, and the average season 20 episode spent about half its runtime listing executive producer credits. (OK, maybe a minor exaggeration...) So Law & Order will have to settle for a tie with Gunsmoke in seasons and remain well behind in episode count. That's still a pretty remarkable achievement, and the L&O brand marched on without the mothership in 2010-11.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

Seas Year Timeslot Avg y2y Lo Hi Results Grade
101999-00Wednesday 10:





172006-07Friday 10:002.75-28%1.93.6

182007-08Wednesday 10:003.15+14%2.63.8


202009-10Fri 8:00, Mon 10:001.64-28%1.22.0

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

Seas Year A18-49+ Label Now15 y2y Lo Hi Premiere Finale
122001-02 172 big hit2.90 144 204 174 169
132002-03 148 hit2.49 -14% 115 172 158 151
142003-04 144 hit2.42 -3% 123 188 188 160
152004-05 112 solid1.88 -22% 88 157 157 98
162005-06 94 marginal1.57 -16% 64 118 99 111
172006-07 73 solid(Fri)1.23 -22% 50 96 96 69
182007-08 95 marginal1.60 +30% 79 115 115 79
192008-09 75 marginal1.27 -21% 57 100 73 76
202009-10 58 flop0.98 -23% 43 71 43 68
AVERAGE (2001-10):108solid
CAREER (2001-10):972

*- 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.

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