Defining Shows/Overall Thoughts:
There is much poo-pooing these days about the decline of broadcast TV, and deservedly so to a large extent. But how much barer would the broadcast cupboard be right now if the class of 2004-05 hadn't happened?
It was a season of new scripted development totally unlike any in the last decade, and every one of the big four networks produced something that went on to great success. But most of the glory in this year went to ABC, which orchestrated an incredible turnaround on the back of by far the biggest new scripted show of the last decade, Desperate Housewives (263). (Not only was it the strongest new show in the A18-49+ era, but it was also the strongest drama season period!) They also successfully launched Lost (168) and Boston Legal (119, later moved to Tuesday) in the fall, then capped off the drama brilliance in the spring with the second-biggest scripted newbie of the last decade, Grey's Anatomy (200). Throw in the ascendancy of sophomore reality show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (162), two new unscripted utility players in Wife Swap (106) and Supernanny (96) and the summer launch of Dancing with the Stars (126) and a network practically running on fumes had almost entirely restocked its roster in one magical year.
While ABC's rise was the feel-good story of 2004-05, the collapse of NBC was (at least numerically) an even bigger one; it lost 20 points in relative A18-49+ while ABC picked up just 14. Friends and Frasier were gone. The heir to the Friends slot was the highly underwhelming spin-off Joey (112). And plenty of the shows that had shone brightly during NBC's still-supreme 2003-04 season took massive drops in 2004-05: ER (250 -> 198), Will and Grace (187 -> 111), The Apprentice (241 -> 183/159), Law and Order (145 -> 112), Fear Factor (143 -> 108), Law & Order: Criminal Intent (117 -> 98).
2004-05 was the peak season for all three members of the CSI franchise: CSI (245), CSI: Miami (185) and newly launched CSI: NY (131), and CBS also saw considerable promise in the sophomore runs of NCIS (81) and Two and a Half Men (144). But the increasingly uncertain future of the sitcom was about to be dealt another blow as CBS had to send off Everybody Loves Raymond (155). While they had an heir to the Monday 9/8c throne in place in Two and a Half Men, they didn't have much else.
Fox had its worst year in the A18-49+ era in 2004-05, as they remained the network of American Idol (273/273) and not much else. Some key seeds were planted with House (130) and, at the very end of the season, a second strong animation hour in the resurrection of Family Guy (101) and new American Dad! (90). But at least for this season it was more than offset by former staples like That '70s Show (85), Malcolm in the Middle (67) and The Bernie Mac Show (53) losing value fast, and The OC (81) took a big dip in its sophomore season.
Big Hits: Desperate Housewives (263), Grey's Anatomy (199), Lost (170)
Hits: Medium (135), CSI: NY (131), House (130)
Solid: Boston Legal (119), Joey (112)
Sub-solid renewals: Numb3rs (90), American Dad! (90), Rodney (86), The Office (73), Jake in Progress (58)
Renews by network: ABC 6, CBS 2, NBC 3, Fox 2
When comparing the new show classes of the last decade, there are three that really stand out in a good way: 2004-05, 2009-10 and 2011-12. Though most people would probably guess (correctly) that 2004-05 was the strongest of those three, many of the top-to-bottom numbers put these three seasons on relatively equal footing. The 2004-05 Flop % falls in between 2009-10 (46%) and 2011-12 (35%); the % renewed is basically tied with 2009-10 (42%) and barely ahead of 2011-12 (38%), and the Solid % has only a teeny edge (vs. 25% for 2011-12 and 23% for 2009-10). The median new show's A18-49+ was 79 in all three of these seasons.
Where this season really separates is at the very top. ABC's three defining dramas all qualified as big hits; there have been just three "big hits" in the other nine A18-49+ seasons combined (2 Broke Girls (180), Heroes (164) and Coupling (154))! Desperate Housewives is the runaway #1 new scripted show of the decade, Grey's Anatomy is a pretty comfortable #2, and Lost checks in at #4, trailing only 2BG from the other nine seasons. Throw in the three hits and there were six new scripted hits in this season. Only 2011-12 even made it to four hits, and that was out of a class with nine more new shows total.
This season also passes the longevity test. Only three of the 13 renewals lasted just one more season, and all of the remaining ten made it at least five seasons. Quite a few of these shows peaked very early: Desperate Housewives, Medium, CSI: NY, Numb3rs, Boston Legal. A few started strong and at some point got even stronger: Grey's Anatomy, Lost and House. And there were a couple shows that started slow but eventually went on to run longer than almost all the rest: The Office and American Dad!
The previous period that I called the "A18-49+ era" (2006-12) was a time of relatively subtle shifts among the networks. I thought it was a huge deal when CBS went +9 and Fox went -9 in 2011-12! However, 2004-05 saw even more dramatic sea changes, as a post-Friends NBC went a staggering -20 while ABC went +14. Throw in another -14 for NBC in 2005-06 and you have the three largest year-to-year shifts by network in the last decade. (NBC's 2012-13 may get close to this club.)
CBS quietly had a strong uptick in this season as well, riding the peak season of the CSI franchise, a still very strong Survivor (183/186) and some promising freshman/sophomore crime dramas. Their reduction of Saturday night originals also helps to inflate their score vs. 2003-04.
Days of the Week:
The quick oversimplification is that Thursday lost Friends (and considerable juice among the accompanying shows) while Sunday picked up Desperate Housewives (and considerable juice among the accompanying shows).
The reasons behind the Monday decline are a little more subtle, but it seems a large chunk of this was Fox running fewer special American Idols on the night. NBC's lineup also got weaker with the decline of Fear Factor and the loss of Average Joe.
Time of Day:
Eventually primetime TV would become much more skewed toward the first half of the evening, but 2004-05 was not when that would happen. In fact, it actually went in the other direction, and a big part of that at 8:00 was the loss of Friends. Meanwhile, it was the peak season for the 10:00 hour in the A18-49+ era. A great deal of NBC's post-Friends strength was concentrated in the 10:00 hour with ER and the Law & Order franchises, and CBS also picked up some steam with the peak CSI: Miami and Without a Trace seasons, plus strong 10:00 newbies CSI: NY and Numb3rs.
Repeats & Sports/Specials:
The depreciation of repeats and movies was on display in 2004-05. As I said last time, the size of the rerun drop was somewhat Friends-influenced, as it was the strongest repeater on TV and it aired a ton of repeats in 2003-04.
Much like in the time of day section, there's a trend across the decade with sports ratings, but in 2004-05 we were still on the eve of that becoming a thing. The NFL explosion didn't really take place until deep into the second half of the aughts.
2001-02 | 2002-03 | 2003-04 | 2004-05 | 2005-06 | 2006-07 | 2007-08 | 2008-09 | 2009-10 | 2010-11 | 2011-12 | 2012-13 | 2013-14