Monday, July 15, 2013

A18-49+: The Sitcoms, Dramas and Unscripted Post


The A18-49+ theme posts combine all of the individual season info in one specific category, allowing us to line up the last ten seasons of collective Live+SD ratings declines on a relatively apples-to-apples basis. In future seasons I will update these pages with the new season numbers.

Today brings the sequel to perhaps my favorite post on the blog last year, "Quantifying the Return of the Sitcom." That was the post that I think really proved how much value there was in the whole A18-49+ project. I also did an unscripted edition. For most of the theme posts this year, the idea is that there won't really be any value in returning to those old posts. However, I still recommend those, as they have a lot more info on individual shows than this one.

This year, I'm building on those ideas with even deeper numbers. I classified every single big four series that's gone into a regular season "league average" under one of four categories: "Sitcom," "Drama," "Unscripted" and "News."* Now I can look at the strength of these categories in their entireties, rather than just the top shows. I've also got some very interesting stuff on how much of the non-sports series real estate each of those categories takes up.

*- "News" is a very quick way of describing this category, but what I really mean here is "low priority schedule staples." Most of them are indeed newsmagazines: 60 Minutes, 48 Hours, Dateline, Rock Center, Primetime, 20/20. But I also included three notable series that I don't think most would consider "news": Cops, America's Most Wanted and America's Funniest Home Videos. This is done to cover the full gamut of unscripted series in low-viewed timeslots that roughly tend to decline at the league average rate.

Previously:
New Shows
Networks



Put 'em All Together:

Ratings:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2001-021211049872
2002-031169712766
2003-041019614166
2004-058211311661
2005-067711112060
2006-078410711958
2007-089810111161
2008-0910110011662
2009-101019911661
2010-111109412161
2011-121179411459
2012-131039412065
2013-141019411871
2014-151079511970
2015-161009611777



To expand on something in the 2003-04 section, it's worth noting that the volume of originals aired on weekends tends to have an impact. For one, dramas are always going to be inherently disadvantaged, because there are always a lot more of those on weekends compared to sitcoms. Generally the drama numbers would be about seven points higher if we exclude Friday/Saturday episodes.

Also, part of the sitcom's collapse in 2012-13 had to do with ABC's return to Friday comedy. The 2010-11 and 2011-12 regular seasons combined had just one original weekend sitcom episode (can you name the show?!) while ABC aired 23 original sitcom hours (or 46 episodes) on Friday last season. Taking just the Sunday to Thursday episodes, the sitcoms would've averaged a 106. So that's only a small fraction of what happened to the sitcom in 2012-13, but it does matter.

Real Estate:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2001-0221%44%14%21%
2002-0319%42%19%20%
2003-0421%41%19%20%
2004-0516%41%26%17%
2005-0616%45%23%15%
2006-0711%48%26%15%
2007-089%40%38%12%
2008-0911%49%28%12%
2009-1013%45%30%12%
2010-1114%43%30%13%
2011-1216%41%30%12%
2012-1319%40%29%12%
2013-1420%44%27%9%
2014-1515%50%24%11%
2015-1615%51%24%10%



My biggest revelation in doing last year's rerun post was how consistently the networks divvy up the real estate. Almost every year, there are about 60-65% original series, about 20% reruns and about 15% sports/specials/movies. These numbers almost never fluctuate in any meaningful way. (We'll revisit all those numbers in a couple weeks.)

Similarly, the real estate allocation within the original series portion is shockingly consistent. Nearly every single season sees roughly (but not that roughly) a 60% scripted / 40% unscripted balance. The scripted percentage has never been lower than 57% (2010-11 and 2011-12) and never higher than 64% (2013-14)... with one exception. That'd be, as always, that crazy writers' strike year of 2007-08. That collective shortening of scripted seasons actually didn't have that big an impact on the volume of originals; it was down, but only a couple percentage points from the norm. The paradigm really thrown off was the scripted/unscripted balance, as the networks brought in plenty of filler to create a roughly 50/50 split between scripted and unscripted.



2001-04: Reality Rises and Rules

Ratings:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2001-021211049872
2002-031169712766
2003-041019614166

Real Estate:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2001-0221%44%14%21%
2002-0319%42%19%20%
2003-0421%41%19%20%

The way the league average was put together in 2003-04 was pretty unique, and it's nice that we're able to glimpse the end of the previous era. As I mentioned at some length in the 2003-04 recap, perhaps most important was that there were still non-burnoff scripted hours being broadcast on Saturday, namely CBS' The District (46) and Hack (39). Combine this with ABC's TGIF and this season's scripted averages are more deflated than any other by the weekend numbers. (Taking just the Sunday to Thursday numbers, dramas and sitcoms would both average 106.)

However, this still looks like it was probably the tail end of reality TV's golden age. While reality is still a huge deal today, it is much more about a select few strong veteran shows taking up a ton of real estate. But 2003-04's American Idol (268/255) had not even hit its prime yet. 2003-04 was a land of young shows and great depth in the unscripted realm. NBC had the breakout of the season, The Apprentice (241), along with shows like Average Joe (158/132) and Fear Factor (143). Fox could throw practically anything after American Idol and strike it big, from My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance (198) to The Simple Life (142) to The Swan (108). Survivor (199/211) and The Bachelor (159/129) were stronger than they are today. Many of these shows had burned out entirely within a couple years, but the land was still quite fertile in 2003-04.

Another reason for that huge 142 number for "Reality" is that much of the "filler" we see in that average today counted in the "News" average back then. Filler was much more a newsmagazine game, from ABC's Thursday edition of Primetime (68) to CBS' 60 Minutes II (53) on Wednesday. Over the next three years, many of those options would slow filter away in favor of more traditional cheap "reality."



2004-06: A Dramatic Explosion

Ratings:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2004-058211311661
2005-067711112060

Real Estate:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2004-0516%41%26%17%
2005-0616%45%23%15%

Starting with 2004-05, the relatively balanced world of sitcoms and dramas got thrown way off-kilter. On the drama side, the multi-pronged breakthrough class of 2004-05 did a great deal of the lifting. Of course ABC's big three of Desperate Housewives (263), Grey's Anatomy (199) and Lost (170) are most fondly remembered, but even if you threw all those out and just took the top drama on every other network (Medium (135), CSI: NY (131) and House (130)), it'd have been a great year for new drama. The networks' reaction? MOAR DRAMA. The percentage shot up to 46% in 2005-06, then peaked in the years surrounding the writers' strike at just under 50%.

While the drama was reloading its stables, the sitcom took a huge double whammy. First NBC lost Friends (300) and Frasier (114) after the 2003-04 season, and they subsequently saw their comedy presence pretty much die out. CBS lost Everybody Loves Raymond (155) after 2004-05, and while they held up a little better because they had their next anchor Two and a Half Men in place, Men was not immediately as strong as Raymond, and there were a couple rough years for them as well.



2006-09: Sitcom Real Estate Bottoms Out, but A Rally Begins

Ratings:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2006-078410711958
2007-089810111161
2008-0910110011662

Real Estate:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2006-0711%48%26%15%
2007-089%40%38%12%
2008-0911%49%28%12%

2005-06 was as dire as it ever got for the sitcom in the last decade. And the networks clearly responded in 2006-07, shrinking the percentage of sitcom real estate all the way down to 11%. It went down even farther in 2007-08, though that was because of the writer's strike; the drama to sitcom ratio was about the same. And even though there were clear signs that the form was rebounding in 2007-08 (in particular, the sitcoms returned from the strike so much better than the dramas), it took the networks a little while to adjust accordingly. The real estate makeup in the year after the strike was virtually the same as in the year before it. From 2006-07 through 2009-10, new dramas were consistently outnumbering new sitcoms nearly two to one. (For comparison, in the last two years it's been much more even: 38 dramas vs. 30 sitcoms.)



2009-12: A Sitcom Reinvestment and Resurgence

Ratings:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2009-101019911661
2010-111109412161
2011-121179411459

Real Estate:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2009-1013%45%30%12%
2010-1114%43%30%13%
2011-1216%41%30%12%

In 2009-10, the sitcom real estate percentage finally began swinging up. The effect wasn't immediately felt in the overall rating averages, but it was clearly a very important year as ABC launched its new Wednesday lineup with Modern Family (135) and The Middle (81), while CBS was building The Big Bang Theory (188) into something special after Two and a Half Men. NBC (kind of) got its act together led by The Office. It all peaked in 2011-12 with the return of the megahit scripted program as Modern Family (214), The Big Bang Theory (210) and Two and a Half Men (210) all broke through the barrier.

Reality programming also had a bit of a resurgence as shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars hit their ratings prime and took up more and more real estate.



2012-16: The Sitcom Bubble Bursts

Ratings:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2012-131039412065
2013-141019411871
2014-151079511970
2015-161009611777

Real Estate:

YearComedyDramaRealityNews
2012-1319%40%29%12%
2013-1420%44%27%9%
2014-1515%50%24%11%
2015-1615%51%24%10%

In "Quantifying the Return of the Sitcom," my advice to the networks was to continue increasing the investment in sitcoms. They did just that, but the results trend went sharply in the other direction. I knew it'd been a bad year, but the extent of this year-to-year drop still surprised me. It's not like there was some huge loss like a Friends or a Raymond, but comedies practically reverted to their 2008-10 levels. It makes some sense when you consider that, monstrous The Big Bang Theory (249) excepted, almost every returning sitcom dropped by more than the league average. NBC's department totally fell apart thanks to a disappointing final season of The Office (101), and Fox sophomore New Girl (109) slumped big time in its effort to anchor a two-hour block. Perhaps a lot of the returnee struggle owes to the fact that the new sitcom slate was disastrous. NBC, the heaviest investor in new comedies, canned every single one, while CBS reacted to its horrible slate by pretty much sitting out of the new comedy game.

2013-14 felt like another terrible season for sitcoms, but that doesn't really show up in these category averages; comedies went down just a point, from 103 to 102. This was despite every single network getting weaker in comedies (a couple of them much weaker), and the total volume of sitcoms aired going up. So what gives on the 103 -> 102 thing?

The key is in the network real estate counts. Specifically, the strongest comedy network (CBS) added a sitcom hour in 2013-14, while the weakest one (NBC) barely aired half as many comedy hours as last year. This made a seismic difference, enough to nearly cancel out the general weakening. And though there were more success stories in 2014-15 (especially ABC Wednesday), the trend was again exaggerated as even more low-rated hours were shed in 2014-15.



A18-49+ Recaps
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5 comments:

Spot said...

The single episode Friday sitcom is Better Off Ted. I liked that show...

Spot said...

Ack, I'm racking my brain over this single Friday sitcom episode. I thought it was Better Off Ted (ABC) or Running Wilde (Fox) but I feel like those are wrong...

Spot said...

I'm thinking Big Bang Theory rerun followed by a leftover Rules of Engagement.

Spot said...

Oops, my wording in that section was awful. The episode I was referring to was actually on a Saturday. I meant to refer to "weekends" there rather than just Fridays.

And Better Off Ted's Friday episode was a good guess, but a year too early (2009-10).

Spot said...

I got it- it was How to Be a Gentleman's third episode in 2011-12.

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