Thursday, June 23, 2011

The War of 18-49, Private Practice


Scheduling history: The successful opening season of Private Practice aired in the middle of a night of three new Wednesday dramas in fall 2007 on ABC. When that three-drama block started going awry in fall 2008, ABC shipped Private Practice to the post-Grey's Anatomy slot on Thursday. It stayed there for more than three years, then went to Tuesday late in the 2011-12 season and remained there for the final season.

See (who saw) how it all began: The much-hyped spin-off to Grey's Anatomy began big with 14.41 million viewers (still a viewers series high) and a 5.2 adults 18-49 rating. It got some help from a special premiere Wednesday airing of Dancing with the Stars, but it still built significantly on Dancing's 4.1 rating. That was all the more impressive considering it came in the same timeslot and on the same night as the premiere of Bionic Woman, which scored a 5.7 demo. Those were the 2007-08's two biggest scripted premieres outside of NFL-fueled Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. And Private Practice held up reasonably well, dropping to a 4.5 demo in week two but then bouncing back up to a 4.9 in week three.

The best of times: Average-wise, the short first season of Private Practice at 9:00 on Wednesday far outshines anything else. It broke the 4.0 plateau six times in its first seven episodes but has only done that five times in its 2.5 seasons with the big Grey's Anatomy lead-in. However, its best individual results have come since the move to Thursday, mostly for Grey's Anatomy crossover events. The series' two highest demo points were when it scored a 5.3 and 5.7 demo for a two-part crossover on 2/5/09 and 2/12/09.

The worst of times: Like all 2007-08 debuts, its first season was cut short by the WGA strike. And Private Practice was one of the shows that didn't go back into production for the 2007-08 season after the strike ended. So its season 2 debut followed a ten-month hiatus. It started the fall of 2008 OK but much lower than almost all its fall 2007 results; then, by late November, it was struggling in the low 2's. This wasn't what ABC wanted out of a Wednesday anchor, so they shipped it to Thursday to join with its parent show. That move produced a significant boost, and it wasn't really till the second half of the 2010-11 season that it fell back into that demo area. It didn't really drop into flop territory till after its move to Tuesday late in the 2011-12 season. It got as low as a 1.0 demo for a special Thanksgiving Eve airing on 11/21/12.

Then vs. now: I think a lot of people look at how well Private Practice started in fall 2007 and consider what has ultimately become its fate - basically a Thursday version of the "decent retention" role Brothers & Sisters had for five years - a disappointment on the whole. I suppose I can see where they're coming from. But I think what Private Practice has done on Thursday has been a bit underestimated. Its 70% retention of Grey's on average is miles ahead of almost everything that led out of Grey's before it. Five of the six shows to regularly air post-Grey's before PP averaged 52% or lower retention, with some like Big Shots (42%), Six Degrees (40%) and Men in Trees (38%) doing much worse than that. By those terrible standards, Private Practice looked quite acceptable. And the show demonstrated at least something of a distinct audience in its move to Tuesday late in the 2011-12 season. But a pairing with ABC's Tuesday comedy block proved ill-advised, and it was probably a pretty easy decision for ABC to end the show after 13 episodes.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

Seas Year Timeslot Avg y2y Lo Hi Results Grade
12007-08Wednesday 9:
22008-09Wed 9:00, Thu 10:003.27-22%1.85.7detail
32009-10Thursday 10:003.27+0%2.34.6detail
52011-12Thu 10:00, Tue 10:002.28-15%1.42.8detailC+
62012-13Tuesday 10:001.33-42%1.01.9detailD

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

Seas Year A18-49+ Label Now15 y2y Lo Hi Premiere Finale
12007-08 127 hit2.14 82 157 157 115
22008-09 109 solid1.83 -15% 60 190 110 116
32009-10 116 solid1.96 +7% 82 163 163 114
42010-11 105 solid1.76 -10% 75 153 126 98
52011-12 96 marginal1.62 -8% 59 119 119 76
62012-13 63 flop1.06 -34% 47 90 90 71

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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