Monday, December 6, 2010

The War of 18-49, Prison Break


Why post this on Monday? 75 of Prison Break's 81 total hours aired on Monday. The only ones that didn't were the last six, which aired on Fridays in 2009. The 2017 revival aired on Tuesday at 9/8c.

See (who saw) how it all began: In the first couple seasons, Prison Break was one of those shows that Fox would premiere several weeks early to make up for the inevitable baseball preemptions. Prison Break premiered on 8/29/05 to a fairly impressive 10.51 million viewers and a 4.6/12 in adults 18-49. It dropped to a 3.9 in week two but bounced right back up to a 4.5 demo in week three. The start of the traditional regular season hurt the show a bit initially, but it would creep back into the low 4's for much of the rest of season 1.

The best of times: Season 1 was when the show was at its strongest, particularly the 11/28/05 fall finale which scored 12.18 million viewers and a 5.5/12 demo. That number stood more than a half point ahead of any other airing, and the show had its five highest ratings ever in the fall half of that first season. But although I'd always heard that season 1 was the only time when the show was really any good, the drops were not realized immediately. Season 2 was down less than 10% and still a fairly impressively-rated season.

The worst of times: Even season 3 did all right for Prison Break, with almost every single episode falling in the low 3's. But by early season 4, it was clear the show was on its way out. Season 4 premiered to a still passable 2.7 but it dropped all the way to a 2.1 just four weeks later and spent most of the rest of its fall run at either a 2.1 or 2.2.  Then came the move to Friday, where it premiered in April 2009 to just a 1.2 demo and got as low as a 0.9 on 5/8/09. It hit new raw lows in the revival eight years later, but overall that short fifth season was stronger on a historical-adjusted basis than what Prison Break had been doing at the end of its original run.

Then vs. now: Prison Break was never really the massive hit in season 1 that I always sort of thought it was, and the aforementioned fall 2005 number was probably the only time it really even showed promise of becoming that. But it really epitomized what people talk about when they talk about a show having a 'core audience.' Within each of the last three seasons, you could count on the show settling at about the same rating almost every single week; look at how small the difference is between the season low and high in season 3, for example. But as with most serialized dramas, that core got smaller and smaller each season, and its significant drops in the opening weeks of season 4 finally put it below the threshold of acceptability. It was probably done for even if it hadn't completely bombed in its spring 2009 move to Friday.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

1Summer 2005-06Mon 8:00, Mon 9:
22006-07Monday 8:003.78-9%3.34.2detail
42008-09Monday 9:001.95-38%0.92.7detail
5Spring 2017Tuesday 9:000.960.71.5detailB+

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

1Summer 2005-06103hit(sum)1.2684135113111
5Spring 201778marginal0.965712212273


The War of 18-49 chronicles the ratings history of veteran primetime series. For more, see the Index.

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