A few weeks ago I introduced what I called "Career A18-49+," an attempt to take the historically-adjusted A18-49+ stat, usually used to label one season, and apply it to full series runs. The formula is simple: Career A18-49+ is the sum of all the season A18-49+ numbers.
The next step is to create a frame of reference. So here are the labels used to categorize these shows. Initially I tried to create tiers of the same size, but it became clear that there need to be more tiers at the bottom end of the range since there are more shows there.
I'm including both "ended examples," which are probably the best since their whole history is in the books, as well as where
some current shows would line up "if cancelled today." I had thought about trying to project where current shows will end up, but (aside from shows with announced final seasons like How I Met Your Mother) that was gonna get us to dissertation-length.
Keep in mind that this stat is about accrued ratings over time. For an ongoing show, it has nowhere to go but up. So don't take the label on an ongoing show as a "final judgment." It's just where it'd be if the series ended right now.
For now, I'm just gonna go ahead and say that these labels will be limited to big four broadcast network scripted shows. I tinkered with some potential ways to "cap" the longevity that might allow perennially modest-rated shows like America's Funniest Home Videos and 48 Hours to be included, but all those ways seemed unfair to the long-running scripted shows. I will update this pursuit later.
Also, I'm not including the CW or cable right now, but suffice to say that if you multiply a CW's career number by three, that result will give you a pretty good idea of what tier "for CW" it belongs in. (That may end up being the actual adjustment, just don't want to get too complicated in this post.)
The bottom tier is for shows with short, relatively unimpactful runs. Ratings-wise, they were just a blip on the primetime radar. 300 seems like the right cutoff because there's almost nothing below this mark that I would say made any truly meaningful impact on the Nielsen landscape.
Ended Examples: 'Til Death (241), Happy Endings (234), Friday Night Lights (232), Body of Proof (230), Flashpoint (226)
300-499: "Utility Player"
Most shows that end up in this tier had a run of decent but unspectacular ratings that was usually just about long enough to create a syndication package. They stayed around long enough with ratings just good enough to make a small mark on the landscape, but basically no more than that.
Ended Examples: Numb3rs (468), The New Adventures of Old Christine (432), Boston Legal (420), My Name is Earl (404), Prison Break (365), Chuck (364), Ugly Betty (328)
If Cancelled Today: Castle (475), Mike and Molly (428), Parks and Recreation (403), The Middle (396), Parenthood (345)
The shows that make it to a 500 career number may have numbers similar to the utility players on average, but they sustained it a little longer - typically a year or two beyond what we'd consider the four- to five-season minimum for syndication. It's also a place for shows like Heroes that made a legitimately huge impact but flamed out quickly.
Ended Examples: Private Practice (620), Cold Case (619), Medium (612), 30 Rock (585), Brothers and Sisters (559), Heroes (528), According to Jim (419 + 2 missing seasons)
If Cancelled Today: The Mentalist (555), Glee (550), NCIS: Los Angeles (528)
Once we get into the 700 club (not the Pat Robertson one), we've dropped most of the full-time hangers-on. You don't scrape your way to tentpoledom. The "tentpoles" are shows with sustained excellence over quite a few seasons, or perhaps a flash of excellence and a sizable "past its prime" period. For the most part, we're into "household name" territory here.
Ended Examples: Lost (993), CSI: NY (911), Rules of Engagement (823), Without a Trace (763 + 1 missing season), 24 (728 + 2 missing seasons), Scrubs (592 + 2 missing seasons)
If Cancelled Today: Criminal Minds (992), American Dad! (863), Bones (796), Modern Family (724)
By 1000, we're up to the real taste-makers of primetime, the shows that really define their networks' schedules. (Sometimes literally... the "star" shows are the ones whose cast you would want to trot out at the upfront.) These shows had great ratings and great longevity, but not the extreme longevity it takes to get to "icon" status.
Ended Examples: House (1332), CSI: Miami (1245), The Office (1074), How I Met Your Mother (1001 + one season to come)
If Cancelled Today: NCIS (1187), The Big Bang Theory (1033), maybe Family Guy (1135 + pre-revival ratings)
I already mentioned the two words that really embody what it takes to get into this tier: "extreme longevity." Many of these shows were phenomena early, but getting solidly into this tier means you have to sustain the strong ratings. You have to age gracefully and live a very long life to make it to the top, hall of fame-esque level.
Examples: Grey's Anatomy (1717), CSI (1684 + 3 missing seasons), Two and a Half Men (1602), Desperate Housewives (1500*), The Simpsons (1190 + 14 missing seasons), Law and Order: SVU (1141 + 4 missing seasons), ER (957 + 9 missing seasons), Law and Order (654 + 13 missing seasons)
*- Some additional data entered lowered the 2004-05 league average enough that Housewives gets up to 1500 (it was 1499 on the first post), but it may end up dropping back below the mark by summer's end. Either way, it is right on the borderline.
To line 'em up:
These will be on all the War of 18-49 pages by the end of the summer!