Defining Shows/Overall Thoughts:
If 2004-05 put two very clear trends into motion (ABC good, NBC bad), then 2005-06 saw those trends get relatively close to their final realization. (Though both continued a bit more in 2006-07.)
NBC took another massive step downward in 2005-06, putting it pretty close to the level it would stick at until The Voice came on the scene. Though they had a bad development season, much of the problem numerically was the continued meltdown of their once dominant staples: ER (198 -> 151), Law and Order (112 -> 93), Fear Factor (108 -> 61), Las Vegas (112 -> 90), Law and Order: CI (98 -> 82) and the final seasons of Will and Grace (111 -> 94) and The West Wing (86 -> 54). Medium, their biggest new success of the previous year, made it clear it had peaked early (136 -> 103), and Friends heir Joey went from "flop by Friends standards" to, by season's end, a "flop by any standards" (112 -> 72).
Ironically, the only NBC night with any kind of heat was Tuesday, which had long been viewed as a sort of dumping ground for second-tier Thursday shows. Young reality show The Biggest Loser (101), surprise newbie My Name is Earl (125) and upward-trending The Office (102) joined one of the few veterans not taking a dive-bomb, Law and Order: SVU (134).
As for ABC, they had an even worse development season, but it almost didn't matter because of how effectively the class of 2004-05 had stocked the stables. Lost (194) hit its ratings prime, Desperate Housewives (248) didn't drop that much following its ultra-phenomenon first season, and Grey's Anatomy (224) continued to improve its DH retention until its post-Super Bowl airing, which vaulted it consistently ahead of DH. The first regular season edition of Dancing with the Stars (124/118) brought a considerable degree of rejuvenation to ABC's long-troubled Thursday night. The network had fallen almost totally out of the sitcom business, and they still didn't have much depth, but it was a great place to be considering how done they looked two years ago.
A post-Everybody Loves Raymond CBS invested extremely heavily in new shows by their standards, including cycling three new comedies through the timeslot following new 9/8c anchor Two and a Half Men (126). The CSI franchise was still near its peak, with the mothership (223) remaining virtually unchallenged on Thursday and CSI: Miami (156) and CSI: NY (122) not dropping too much from their year-ago summits. The network continued to increase its drama depth with a few more reasonable successes in that arena like The Unit (104), Criminal Minds (100) and new Friday anchor Ghost Whisperer (77), but none were huge breakouts.
Fox probably had the best year of all, setting its own ascent into motion with American Idol (316/289) just beginning its incredible six-year peak period, increasingly impressive sophomore lead-out House (177) and a peaking 24 (139) while stabilizing other problem slots with Family Guy (104) and newbies Prison Break (101) and Bones (91). A network that had previously looked a lot like the ultra-top-heavy Voice-fueled NBC of today was finally starting to surround its signature show with some worthy supporting cast.
Hits: My Name is Earl (125)
Solid: The Unit (104), Prison Break (101), Criminal Minds (100)
Sub-solid renewals: The New Adventures of Old Christine (96), Bones (91), The War at Home (90), How I Met Your Mother (86), What About Brian (84), Ghost Whisperer (77), Close to Home (72)
Renews by network: ABC 1, CBS 6, NBC 1, Fox 3
In 2012-13, the networks followed up their strong 2011-12 development season by ordering far fewer new scripted shows. But 2005-06 was the opposite; 38 scripted newbies populated the big four, up from 32 and 31 the previous two seasons. Perhaps the other three networks were inspired by ABC's success.
Despite all these shows, none of them even sniffed at what had been pulled off the prior year. The only true breakout was NBC's My Name is Earl, and only a couple others (The Unit and Prison Break) could even be called legitimately impressive out of the gate. Had My Name is Earl gone just a touch lower, it could've been a year without a single new hit (and would've been the only one of the last decade).
The weakness of ABC's development slate was particularly jarring; by consolidating so much of their new-found strength on Sunday, they didn't yet have a ton of lead-in juice. The net had scores of new sitcom failures, and among dramas they ultimately had to choose a face-saving renewal between two very modest performers: What About Brian (84) and post-Lost's Invasion (92). (The former won, much to my dismay at the time.)
If I'd told you that the three top-rated shows of this class would all decline from here and be done after four seasons each, you might have thought at the time that this class was a complete disaster. But the 2005-06 class is actually brightened considerably using the longevity test, because Criminal Minds, Bones and How I Met Your Mother went on to become much stronger shows than they initially appeared. (And throw in Supernatural, which has held up remarkably well as the last scripted show standing from the WB/UPN.)
Though the sustained NBC incompetence still gets a lot of press, it is worth noting that the overwhelming majority of their fall from grace happened immediately. In the first two years after Friends was gone, the network lost 34 relative points, and then "just" seven more over the subsequent six years. (And most of that seven-point damage was done in the Jay Leno Show year.) Most of this last half-decade has been about NBC having nothing and being able to build nothing from it.
After the 2005-06 season, the two netlets merged into the CW, which averaged a 41 in its first season. While they did create something a little stronger than either of the netlets in the last couple years, I have to feel like going just +2 vs. the 2005-06 WB while adding America's Next Top Model and Friday Night Smackdown! was probably a disappointment.
Days of the Week:
NBC Thursday continued to deteriorate, but particularly in the 2005-06 season nobody was really able to step up in its wake, so CBS' Survivor/CSI/Without a Trace lineup had a field day. Fox and ABC (particularly prior to the arrival of Dancing with the Stars) still stumbled along as usual.
The big mover on the positive side this year was Tuesday. As mentioned above, it was one of the only nights where NBC wasn't totally falling apart, plus CBS continued to pick up some steam with The Amazing Race, The Unit and a growing NCIS, and Fox was also much stronger in the fall thanks to Bones and House, then exploded with Idol/House in the winter. This set off a five-year run of major Tuesday prosperity (that has almost totally unraveled since Idol and House left the night).
Time of Day:
Nothing really exciting in 2005-06 compared to the previous season. The rise of the 8:00 hour and the decline of the 10:00 hour really began in earnest in the 2006-07 season (when the 8:00 half-hour spiked to 95 and the 10:00 half-hour collapsed to 95).
Repeats & Sports/Specials:
2005-06 really marked the end of the "movie night" as a weeknight staple. ABC had already abandoned them as filler for Mondays after Monday Night Football (airing Wife Swap and Supernanny this year), and this was the final season in which CBS consistently ran movies from 9:00 to 11:00 on Sundays; they would switch to a Cold Case / Without a Trace lineup the next season. While the amount of movie real estate had already been declining, there were over 30% fewer movies in the next season, 2006-07.
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