Friday, August 20, 2010

The War of 18-49, Wife Swap


Why post this on Friday? Wife Swap has aired two seasons on each of three different nights: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  It's aired the last two on Friday.

See (who saw) how it all began: I've talked a lot in these posts about that magical 2004-05 ABC season that really goes down as the last development season to totally change its network's place in the competitive landscape in a good way. The defining shows of that year were, of course, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy and Lost, and if you throw in summer 2005 you also get Dancing with the Stars. Boston Legal also lasted five years out of that class. But the shows nobody ever talks about from that season are previously covered Supernanny, a midseason launch, along with Wife Swap, both of which have quietly lasted at least six seasons. Wife Swap, today's program, kicked off with a Sunday preview on 9/26/04 with 11.3 million viewers and a 5.3 demo (preliminary), then dropped very little three days later to a 5.0 in its Wednesday timeslot. Most of its season 1 airings were in the 4's.

The best of times: Season 1 was easily the best of times for Wife Swap. It broke the 4.0 plateau in over half of its 18 season 1 airings, but only twice in the next five seasons. Its first two airings were the only ones to break a 5.0, and the preview after Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on 9/26/04 remains a series high.

The worst of times: It's pretty much been a downhill trickle ever since, with the biggest blows coming when it got matched up with American Idol during winter/spring 2008, then when it got moved to Friday for 2008-09. In terms of raw numbers, the worst has been the very weak spring/summer run in 2010.  Like Supernanny from last week, this season has produced exactly one episode below a 1.0 demo - a 0.9 on 4/30/10.

Then vs. now: ABC has known what they've had with shows like this and Supernanny: modestly-rated reality shows that can make it into an off-network syndication run and be used in first-run as filler. They have not at all been scheduled like the network wanted them to be all-stars, and they certainly haven't been all-stars. But here they are, six years later. Wife Swap's fate seems to be up in the air at the moment. It's hard to say with a straight face that a 1.13 average for the spring/summer run indicates it should be brought back, but you never know what the economics are like on a syndicated unscripted show like this one.

Season adults 18-49 lows/averages/highs:

Season Year Timeslot Lo Avg Hi Results Available Preliminary Results
1 2004-05 Wednesday 10:00 3.1 4.18 5.3
2 2005-06 Monday 8:00 2.6 3.34 4.4
3 2006-07 2.4 3.30 3.9

4 Winter/Spring 2008 Wednesday 8:00 1.6 2.21 3.3

5 2008-09 Friday 8:00 1.1 1.50 1.8

6 Spring/Summer 2010 0.9 1.12 1.4

Season A18-49+
2006-07 88
2007-08 69
2008-09 50
2009-10 42

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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