Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The War of 18-49, In Plain Sight


Scheduling history: The five-season run of In Plain Sight aired on three different nights (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday), but the show aired the most and always seemed strongest on Sunday, where it typically paired with the USA run of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

See (who saw) how it all began: USA launched In Plain Sight early in the summer of 2008, and the premiere pulled in 5.25 million viewers and a 1.8/5 demo rating. Starting in week two, the show led out of Law & Order: CI, and in the next few weeks IPS typically grew demo audience out of CI. Toward the end of the season, they ended up pulling fairly similar ratings.

The best of times: After the impressive premiere described above, In Plain Sight dropped and leveled off at around a 1.4 demo for most of the rest of the first season. That was by far the highest level the show was ever able to maintain. The 5.25 million and 1.8 demo from the premiere were also series highs, though the show nearly found those numbers again with the season two premiere on 4/19/09 (5.11m, 1.7 A18-49).

The worst of times: In season three, USA premiered In Plain Sight earlier than usual (on March 31) and on a new night (Wednesday), and both those things apparently took a toll. The show was down about 30% from its previous season on Sunday and at that point became one of USA's very weakest originals. Still, USA liked its Wednesday performance enough to give the show a two-season renewal in July 2010 (about a month after season three ended). The show's worst raw numbers certainly came in the final season, when USA pushed it to Friday to try to regain a foothold on the evening. In Plain Sight hit a series low 0.6 demo on five different occasions: once in season three (5/12/10) and four different times during the Friday run.

Then vs. now: For me, the lesson from In Plain Sight is really that the "totem pole" is not quite the renewal indicator on cable that it is on broadcast. The broadcast networks are so constrained from a scheduling standpoint that you really can line up all their shows' ratings and get some sense of what's going on just by looking at that spectrum. A struggling network has to make perhaps questionable renewals to fill 22 hours of primetime, while a thriving network is limited to 22 hours and must axe its weakest shows, even if they'd survive elsewhere. But on cable, there's considerably more flexibility, and that means shows can be judged on a more general sense of merit than on relative merit. If everything hits the target, just renew everything, and USA certainly behaved that way for awhile. So while In Plain Sight may have spent most of its run as one of USA's weakest originals, it still did well enough in that vacuum to last for five seasons.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

Season Year Timeslot Lo Avg Hi Results Grade
12007-08Sunday 10:001.11.381.8
32009-10Wednesday 10:000.60.821.0
42010-11Sunday 10:000.80.931.0
52011-12Friday 10:000.60.660.8

A18-49+Year-to-Year In-Season
Premiere Average Finale P -> F

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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