Thursday, August 12, 2010

The War of 18-49, Without a Trace


Why post this on Thursday? Without a Trace aired five of its seven seasons on Thursdays, including the first four, which were easily the strongest ratings-wise.

See (who saw) how it all began: Without a Trace began with 16.21 million viewers and a 5.8/14 in the demo on 9/26/02. This was a decent looking number even back then, but the bad-ish news was the retention; it held only a hair over half of the 11.5/26 that CSI scored in the demo that night. Like so many other shows, it had the week two drop (to a 5.2) and then the week 3 bounce-back (to a preliminary 5.6). It jumped around a lot in season 1, mostly because it aired some episodes without an original episode of the gargantuan CSI as a lead-in. (Though the CSI repeats were themselves fairly gargantuan back then, but that's a topic for another day...)

The best of times: Without a Trace was actually a grower in seasons 2 and 3 and still pretty steady in season 4, and while it was never as big as CSI, it still grew to become one of the stronger shows in primetime. I'm missing a few points in the early seasons, but the high I have for the show is a 7.7/20 on 1/6/05, and that was good for nearly an 80% hold of CSI's demo on that evening.

The worst of times: But the drop after it left CSI in season 5 was massive: 37%. It was still a decent player on Sunday night at those levels, but CBS decided to put their old Thursday night back together the next season, and amazingly the show actually declined again, largely because it had lost a lot of its own audience and largely because CSI was also weaker. Then there was another big drop the next season as it went to CBS' "cursed" Tuesday 10pm timeslot. It fell 28% in that final season and was a clear weak link when compared to the ascending NCIS and The Mentalist earlier on the night, so that was it for Without a Trace. The series low was a 2.5, which it achieved on five different occasions during that final season.

Then vs. now: The final season of Without a Trace pulled less than half the young adults of most of the post-CSI seasons, and those kinds of drops eventually just don't mesh well with the rising costs of a veteran program. And as I said, it just looked really bad compared with the two hot dramas CBS was airing on that same evening in 2008-09. In replacement The Good Wife, CBS found a show that pulled very similar demos (2.68 average) and brought a heck of a lot more critical acclaim to the net than they were getting with Trace. So in retrospect, they were probably right in canning it.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

Seas Year Timeslot Avg y2y Lo Hi Results Grade
12002-03Thursday 10:




52006-07Sunday 10:003.95-37%3.04.8

62007-08Thursday 10:003.80-4%3.16.4

72008-09Tuesday 10:002.73-28%2.53.4

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

Seas Year A18-49+ Label Now15 y2y Lo Hi Premiere Finale
12002-03 119 solid2.01 97 145 131 113
22003-04 139 hit2.34 +17% 116 168 141 155
32004-05 159 big hit2.68 +14% 81 189 181 167
42005-06 155 big hit2.61 -3% 123 180 158 148
52006-07 105 solid1.76 -32% 80 127 127 104
62007-08 115 solid1.93 +10% 94 193 142 109
72008-09 91 marginal1.53 -21% 83 113 93 83

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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