Friday, July 12, 2013

Top 10 of the Last 10, Netlet (WB/UPN/CW) Scripted Seasons

The collective decline in Live+SD ratings makes it hard to fairly compare numbers across seasons. But with the A18-49+ stat, we have the technology! Enter the "Top 10 of the Last 10" lists, which will line up the last ten seasons (2003-04 thru 2012-13) and give us an idea of which shows were strongest after we set the collective decline off to the side. (I'll throw in the raw numbers too, to give a sense of how far ratings have fallen.)

This week, we're taking the top ten scripted seasons from the "netlets" or the "mini-nets" or whatever you want to call them. They were the WB and UPN through 2006, then the CW after. Only four shows make up these 10 seasons, but see the Notes at the end for a few other favorites that narrowly missed the cut! (In this case, I think the Notes are probably more interesting than the list itself.)

Comedy Seasons
Drama Seasons
New Scripted Shows
Scripted Newbie Reach Renewals
Network Seasons

Top 10 of the Last 10, Netlet Scripted Seasons A18-49+ A18-49
Image 10. The Vampire Diaries (CW, 2011-12) 55 1.29
Season three was TVD's weakest year thus far, but it still barely eked out a spot on the list. This was about as tough as it's been in TVD's timeslot, as The Big Bang Theory had its breakout season and American Idol (while way down) still qualified as a megahit.
Image 9. 7th Heaven (WB, 2003-04) 57 2.30
This was the only season of the 11-year family drama that both fell in the A18-49+ era and had big enough ratings for the list. 2004-05 of 7th Heaven was #11, in a virtual tie with season three of TVD, and 2005-06 was also strong (52). But a surprise renewal for the CW's inaugural season really bombed, dropping roughly 40% to a 33.
Image 8. The Vampire Diaries (CW, 2010-11) 57 1.45
Season two of The Vampire Diaries saw its timeslot get significantly tougher, as Fox moved American Idol onto a Wednesday/Thursday rotation. This was TVD's first stab at launching a new show, the spy drama Nikita which would last multiple additional seasons on Friday.
Image 7. Smallville (WB, 2005-06) 57 2.33
The last WB season of Smallville, like those of 7th Heaven and Gilmore Girls, was stronger than anything that came on the CW. But Smallville held up better (and obviously lasted much longer) on the new network than either of those.
Image 6. Smallville (WB, 2004-05) 57 2.3
Though Smallville may be well-remembered for its long-term simpatico pairing with Supernatural, which began in spring 2006, prior to that Smallville had several cancelled lead-outs. In this season, first The Mountain and then Sunday transplant Jack and Bobby both lasted just one year.
Image 5. Gilmore Girls (WB, 2005-06) 59 2.39
Gilmore Girls' final WB season started hot, frequently posting upper-2's and successfully launching newbie Supernatural. But the warning signs appeared in the spring, dropping beneath 2.0 on several occasions. That level would become the norm in 2006-07, the show's only one on the CW.
Image 4. The Vampire Diaries (CW, 2012-13) 59 1.24
If I were comparing these shows against their own networks' average rather than the big four average, this season of TVD would be #1. It's pretty amazing for a 2012-13 show to make #4 on this list when the CW's ratings as a whole (30) were far below most other years, even the years when there were two netlets.
Image 3. Smallville (WB, 2003-04) 60 2.42
If the A18-49+ era went a couple years farther back, it seems virtually assured that the first couple seasons of Smallville would've topped the charts. The show was regularly capable of going 3.0+ (or even 4.0+) in those seasons, but by this third season it had settled in the mid-2's.
Image 2. Gilmore Girls (WB, 2004-05) 61 2.5
Gilmore Girls had a major late-series resurgence in 2004-05, with its 2.6 premiere going ahead of any number from the previous season. Toward the end of the fall, it even got as high as a 2.8, and it didn't drop that much in the spring months (when it got 2.2 to 2.5).
Image 1. The Vampire Diaries (CW, 2009-10) 61 1.70
Like the list of all dramas, the list of netlet scripted shows is surprisingly topped by a new show. And it's not like TVD was heavily inflated by the early numbers; it premiered at a 2.1 and averaged just four tenths below that.

Notes: This is another of those lists where, even after adjusting for the entertainment average, most of the shows are concentrated toward the beginning of the period. Of course, when you look at the CW's network averages, that's not surprising. The network has greatly depreciated over the last ten years, not just compared to its former ratings but in relation to the big four, and there's only one network now, so it makes sense that many more of its strongest shows would have come earlier.

What might be surprising is that a show from these last two super-low seasons would crack the list (even the top five of the list) while there was no representation from the first three years of the CDub's existence, when the network as a whole was much stronger. The main reason: much like on the big four, there was a bit of a scripted depression (or, glass half full, an unscripted renaissance) during that mid-to-late aughts period. The CW's ratings were largely driven by Friday Night Smackdown! and America's Next Top Model, the latter of which had four different CW-era cycles that would've easily been #1 on this list if I counted them as scripted. (Even reality show Beauty and the Geek (49) was still strong in the CW's inaugural year.) Though they had some good scripted seasons during this time, none were great; Smallville was in the low-50's, while offerings like Gossip Girl, 90210 and One Tree Hill cracked the upper-40's at best.

A few other notable near misses: the 2003-04 season of the last strong Sunday show on a netlet, Charmed (54), was very close, but it dropped significantly in its last two seasons. Angel's final season (52) was also pretty close in 2003-04. The second-biggest new show of the A18-49+ era was this season's Arrow (50). Perhaps the two shows we most think of as "survivors" in this era, One Tree Hill and Supernatural, never made it higher than 48.

The CW has been widely criticized for abandoning the sitcom. Of course, we have the benefit of retrospect; we know that the form started a huge rebound basically right around the time the CDub was getting out. Still, I have always tended to agree with the criticism, if only because I think diversification is a good thing. But it's worth noting that nothing the netlets were producing got even remotely close to this list. The strongest sitcom seasons were the 2004-05 season of Reba (44) and the inaugural year of Everybody Hates Chris (44). Aside from those two, only the UPN years of Girlfriends even made it into the 40's. And by the time the CW came around, every comedy was below 35.

2013-14 Update: Though the CW became a bit deeper in 2013-14, nothing stood out enough to make the cut here. The Vampire Diaries (54) was just a single point behind the #10 entry (TVD's 2011-12 season), while a stunningly big season from Supernatural (53) was just another single point behind. The Originals (47) tied 90210 (47) as the third-biggest newbie in CW history.


Spot said...

Dawn Ostroff's decision to abandon the sitcom format continues to mystify me. The lower production costs coupled with the better repeat-ability of the format makes perfect sense for a smaller network. I'm cautiously hopeful that Whose Line is it Anyway? is the start of branching back into comedies.

Spot said...

She complained that it was hard to make comedies for young women, a couple years after Girlfriends finished its 8-year run. Mind-boggling. You mean to tell me that they couldn't have piloted a female-focused workplace comedy or a buddy show?

Spot said...

That was her main problem: trying to cobble together, and then sustain, a broadcast netlet for a very fickle audience. Fox, The WB, and UPN were smart in their early years by developing programming for an underserved market: Fox went hyper-young/edgy with shows like 21 Jump Street and The Simpsons, while the other two included an urban/black audience under their umbrella with shows like Moesha (UPN) and The Steve Harvey Show (The WB). Dawn wanted then an amalgam of what MTV and ABC Family are now.

Female-focused sitcoms like New Girl or The Mindy Project would fit in well for The CW's brand then as well as now, as would broader but just as edgy sitcoms like Happy Endings, Community, and Don't Trust the B in Apt. 23.

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