Friday, July 19, 2013

Top 10 of the Last 10, Scripted Episodes

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 episodes from the last ten years. When I conceived this idea, I had planned on wording it in a way that would limit it to one episode per show, because I was worried one particular show would dominate. (Top 10 Series' Highest Episodes?) But to my pleasant surprise, even doing it in the intuitive way, six different shows were represented, and no show had more than three eps on the list.

And please keep in mind that, as in all averages on this site, post-Super Bowl episodes are excluded.

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

Top 10 of the Last 10, Scripted Episodes A18-49+ A18-49
Image 10. Desperate Housewives (ABC, 9/25/05) 302 12.3
The season two premiere of Desperate Housewives is one of just two episodes to make this list despite being down from the show's previous episode. It came in 8% behind the enormous season one finale, but it was still 38% ahead of the series premiere a year prior.
Image 9. The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 1/10/13) 304 6.4
The Big Bang Theory had a great fall of 2012, but it didn't really take off until the opening weeks of 2013, when it aired a couple weeks against virtually no competition. Its 6.1 the week before was already several ticks ahead of any previous Thursday episode of the show.
Image 8. Desperate Housewives (ABC, 11/28/04) 307 12.5
Before Housewives really took off at the end of season one/beginning of season two, there was this relatively isolated massive episode toward the end of fall 2004. The show actually dropped all the way back into the single digits for its last two 2004 eps.
Image 7. Grey's Anatomy (ABC, 2/22/07) 310 11.6
The early seasons of Grey's Anatomy peaked around February sweeps events. In 2006, there was the bomb in the hospital (plus a big assist from the Super Bowl). In 2007, it was a ferry boat crash. The last ep of the three-parter hit a regularly-scheduled series high for the show.
Image 6. Two and a Half Men (CBS, 9/26/11) 313 7.4
Men's 31% drop in week two of the Kutcher era left it at a still stratospheric number, but it was pretty clear that this wouldn't be the end of the decline. It shed another two points before finding its low-5's fall level, then another point and a half or so in the spring.
Image 5. Friends (NBC, 1/15/04) 318 12.9
The massive finale kind of obscures the fact that some of Friends' final season was actually kinda weak by its lofty standards. The last five episodes of 2003 all went into the single digits. But it got its momentum back in January when paired with The Apprentice, spiking to 11.9 on 1/8/04 and then to this 12.9.
Image 4. Desperate Housewives (ABC, 5/22/05) 330 13.4
As huge as Desperate Housewives was out of the gate, the pinnacle of the phenomenon came down the stretch of season one and into season two as the show rattled off a string of 20 straight double-digit eps. In the middle of that streak came this huge season one finale.
Image 3. ER (NBC, 5/6/04) 340 13.8
May 6, 2004 was the only day to put two separate episodes on this list. ER was still a beastly drama in 2003-04, averaging a 250 and going as high as 283 in other weeks, but it couldn't reach a 300+ level without a big lead-in boost. It certainly got one from the #1 show on this list.
Image 2. Two and a Half Men (CBS, 9/19/11) 453 10.7
The biggest moment in TV ratings since at least the turn of the decade was Ashton Kutcher's Two and a Half Men debut. That casting more than revitalized CBS' longtime signature comedy, a show that had appeared to be in danger of ending altogether when Charlie Sheen departed earlier in the year.
Image 1. Friends (NBC, 5/6/04) 613 24.9
Knowing that Friends averaged a 300 A18-49+ for the season, I worried that a top episodes list would be absolutely dominated by the one eligible season of Friends. But the double-length series finale so inflated the average that only two of 17 episodes were technically "above average."

Notes: Which shows would have made the cut if I'd gone with the plan to limit this list to one episode per show? The first would've been the highest-rated series premiere, 2 Broke Girls (301 on 9/19/11), followed by the #1 Fox episode, House (299 on 2/13/07), CSI (282 on 11/18/04) and the series finale of Everybody Loves Raymond (276 on 5/16/05).

The top netlet episode (by a fairly decent margin) was actually part of a season that didn't make the top 10 netlet seasons: the 2.6 premiere of 90210 in 2008 (87).

2013-14 Update: The second half of The Big Bang Theory's season premiere (324) became the fifth-biggest scripted episode of the era. Its episode on 1/9/14 (303) would've made the list last summer but is knocked down to #11 by the other BBT ep.

Once again, The Walking Dead would've totally distorted everything if it were included. If it were included on a new list, its episodes would've taken all eight of the #3 through #10 spots on the list!! Its fall premiere (435), spring premiere (434) and spring finale (425) would've been #3, #4 and #5.


Spot said...

What would the top show for UPN and The CW be in the A18-49+ era? My guess is an episode of America's Next Top Model (if we count WWE programming as a "sport") and Smallville, respectively.

Spot said...

Do you know if Friends' final season was up versus its penultimate season in raw numbers?

Spot said...

If we're counting unscripted, it's definitely Top Model for UPN; 3.8 on 2/24/04 (94!). Within scripted, I'm pretty sure it was the premiere of Everybody Hates Chris (79).

On WB, the highest I can find is several 2003 & 2004 Smallville episodes, plus the first series finale of 7th Heaven in 2006, all at 74.

Spot said...

The last season of Friends was roughly +7% vs. 2002-03; but going into the finale it was at -7%!

Spot said...

I skipped over the word "scripted" when writing that comment, and I have no idea why. Friday Brain, I guess...

Had I not glossed over that, I probably would have thought UPN's strongest was Everybody Hates Chris since Star Trek: Voyager predates the range and Star Trek: Enterprise wasn't as strong in its latter seasons.

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