Scheduling history: Following its super-short first season on Thursday night, NBC renewed Southland for the 2009-10 season and scheduled it on Friday night. In October 2009, two weeks before it was scheduled to premiere, NBC shockingly flipped course and cancelled the show. With several season two episodes in the can, TNT decided to take a flier on the series, scheduling it on Tuesday night the next winter. It's now aired three winter seasons on Tuesday for TNT, with another to come in 2013.
See (who saw) how it all began: NBC extensively promoted Southland and its John Wells connections during the April 2, 2009 finale of ER, billing it as a spiritual successor of sorts to the 15-season medical drama. At least for one week, it worked; on April 9, Southland was one of NBC's biggest recent drama premieres with 9.86 million total viewers and a 3.2 demo rating. It also held up pretty fantastically in week two, dropping just two tenths to a 3.0. Then the rains came. Southland fell to a 2.4 in week three (when ABC's Private Practice returned in originals), then CBS pulled their dud horror drama Harper's Island in favor of crime drama repeats and took another big chunk out in week four, when Southland managed just a 2.0.
The best of times: The biggest rating for Southland remains the 3.2 demo from that April 9 premiere, and season one as a whole had about three times the demo audience of any of the TNT seasons. But the show's been on safer ground on TNT, only dropping a little bit across its three seasons on that network. The TNT high remains the 1.0 demo from its first original episode on the network on 3/2/10. No other episode on TNT has gone higher than 0.8.
The worst of times: From the ratings perspective, a key component in NBC cancelling the series may have been the fact that Southland failed miserably in its only effort against an original crime drama on CBS. It managed just a 1.6 demo against the season finale of CSI: NY on 5/14/09. That was three tenths below any of its other NBC results. For almost all of the three-season run on TNT, 0.6 and 0.7 demo ratings have been the norm. Southland has only dropped to a 0.5 twice: on 3/1/11 and 3/20/12.
Then vs. now: The TNT run for Southland has been pretty innocuous ratings-wise. It's just settled in as a pretty marginally-rated yet acclaimed show. The more interesting issue for me with this show is whether NBC was right to cancel it. It kind of reminds me of LeBron James' "The Decision" in that I think our take on the choice itself is colored by the way it went down: at the "height" of the Jay Leno Show era, removed right before the premiere, replaced with even more unscripted programming (Dateline). It felt like one of the more blatant slaps in the face of quality scripted programming that we've ever seen. But that doesn't necessarily mean it was totally wrong. The trajectory in season one was pretty worrisome, even though it mostly aired in a rather uncompetitive slot. (It's tough to find a slot where you're not facing a CBS crime drama.) And the show has not exactly taken off on TNT, a broad enough network that it likely could've happened there if it were going to happen. Had it stayed on NBC, there's really no ratings reason to believe it wouldn't have been just another marginally-rated yet acclaimed show, and people rag on NBC all the time for keeping too many of those around. We can't say for sure, but I tend to believe the TNT arrangement ended up being the best situation for all parties.
Adults 18-49 info by season:
|1||2008-09||NBC, Thursday 10:00||1.6||2.30||3.2|
|2||2009-10||TNT, Tuesday 10:00||0.7||0.77||1.0|
|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.