Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The War of 18-49, Boston Legal


Why post this on Tuesday? Three of Boston Legal's five seasons aired on Tuesdays. Only the first (Sunday) and last (Monday) didn't.

See (who saw) how it all began: Boston Legal began as the first of what would eventually be three regularly-scheduled lead-outs of Desperate Housewives to run 5+ seasons. It premiered on the same night that the Housewives shocked the world with a massive 8.9 demo, and Boston Legal held 54% of that demo in premiering to a 4.8. It'd stay at a 4.8 the next week and spend its first few episodes in the upper 4's. That seems like an impressive hold, but lead-in Desperate Housewives was on the upswing big-time while Legal was holding steady.

The best of times: This is one of those shows (Bones being another example that springs to mind) whose best raw numbers came after a gigantic lead-in but whose best times as a puzzle piece for its network probably came after it got moved. Its ratings peak was a 5.7 demo on 11/28/04 when Housewives pulled a series-second-best 12.5, so that wasn't a terribly amazing outing. The show got moved out of the Sunday timeslot after less than a year, so ABC wasn't too impressed either. After that, it settled into a nice role locking down that Tuesday 10/9c timeslot for a three-year period, most impressive during seasons 2 and 3 when it was mostly in the 3.0 vicinity.

The worst of times: Season 4 was the beginning of the end for Boston Legal, as it dropped nearly 20% from that solid season 2 & 3 level. The series low came at the end of that fourth season, when it got a 1.6 for a special Wednesday airing on 5/21/08. It eked out a final season renewal in large part because ABC was top-heavy and needed to fill some hours in the wake of the WGA strike, and the show was shifted to Monday for the final season.

Then vs. now: Boston Legal was never a big hit. It was never really even a hit. But on a network that built a few huge hits in the mid-2000s and very little else, it filled the important role of respectably taking up hours on the schedule, and it did that long enough to stick around for over 100 episodes. Its ratings in the last couple years certainly don't make it look like ABC made some kind of huge mistake in dropping it, but the value of this type of show shouldn't be underestimated. This will be the third straight season since BL's departure that ABC has failed to order a full season for its fall drama in that Tuesday 10/9c timeslot.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

Seas Year Timeslot Avg y2y Lo Hi Results Grade
12004-05Sunday 10:004.883.95.8detail
22005-06Tuesday 10:003.17-35%2.63.7detail
42007-08Tue 10:00, Wed 10:002.33-18%1.63.0detail
52008-09Monday 10:002.15-8%1.82.4detail

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

Seas Year A18-49+ Label Now15 y2y Lo Hi Premiere Finale
12004-05 120 solid2.01 96 142 118 96
22005-06 78 marginal1.31 -35% 64 91 84 64
32006-07 76 marginal1.28 -3% 61 119 90 74
42007-08 71 marginal1.19 -7% 48 91 76 48
52008-09 71 marginal1.20 +1% 60 80 80 76

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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