Friday, August 16, 2013

Top 10 of the Last 10, Friday 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, it's the top ten Friday scripted shows. I sure hope you like Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs! These averages are kept to the Friday episodes only; in other words, non-Friday episodes that may have been part of these seasons are not included. In the Notes I'll include some info on unscripted shows that would've made this list.

Comedy Seasons
Drama Seasons
New Scripted Shows
Scripted Newbie Reach Renewals
Network Seasons
Netlet Scripted Seasons
Scripted Episodes
Scripted Newbie Cancellations
Days of the Week

Top 10 of the Last 10, Friday Scripted Seasons A18-49+ A18-49
Image 10. Medical Investigation (NBC, 2004-05) 77 3.1
This is the first of two NBC 2004-05 first-year dramas that got cancelled to make this list. While this show dropped somewhat toward the end and eventually got overshadowed by CBS newbie Numb3rs, its ratings still would've been good enough for Friday in most cases.
Image 9. Ghost Whisperer (CBS, 2005-06) 77 3.13
A year after launching Friday 10/9c tentpole Numb3rs, CBS fully realized what would become a five-year reign of terror on Friday with newbie Ghost Whisperer. It premiered to a 3.0 demo and ended up averaging a little better than that in season one.
Image 8. Hope and Faith (ABC, 2003-04) 77 3.11
The last newbie success in ABC's previous generation of TGIF was Hope & Faith, buoyed by its daytime TV star Kelly Ripa. It began with a huge-for-Friday 4.7 rating, settled at around a 3.0 for most of the rest of the fall, then fell through the 2's and into the 1's across its three-year run.
Image 7. Law & Order: Trial By Jury (NBC, 2004-05) 79 3.20
NBC's second strong-but-cancelled Friday newbie in 2004-05 was a fourth Law & Order series. It started with a 6.2 on a Thursday, opened on Friday at 4.1 and was in the low 3's for most of the run. Coupled with the death of Jerry Orbach, who had moved over to TBJ, NBC decided this show wasn't strong enough to risk overexposing the thriving L&O brand.
Image 6. Numb3rs (CBS, 2006-07) 79 2.97
While Ghost Whisperer didn't really drop off until its final season, Numb3rs began its downward trajectory much earlier. It was already getting weaker by this third season, then dropped again into the mid-70's for seasons four and five before tanking to mid-60's in season six.
Image 5. Ghost Whisperer (CBS, 2006-07) 80 3.01
Season two of Ghost Whisperer took place in the first season of the "modern" league average decline, so it grew a bit in A18-49+ even though the raw numbers dropped a bit. It was actually even to slightly up in raw numbers for most of the season, but starting in February 2007 it fell off into the upper 2's.
Image 4. Numb3rs (CBS, 2004-05) 82 3.33
Numb3rs was the first big step in CBS' Friday takeover, launching to a 9.2 demo after the AFC Championship Game in early 2005. And it brought the majority of that audience to Friday, beginning with a massive 5.0 five days later. It dropped big in week two to 3.3, but basically settled right at that level for season one.
Image 3. Third Watch (NBC, 2003-04) 82 3.34
NBC's longtime Monday fixture aired just four eps on Monday in fall 2003 before shipping off to Friday, where it became a very powerful Friday series for the rest of the season. It tailed off to a 73 A18-49+ in 2004-05, still a very good number, but that was ultimately its last season.
Image 2. Numb3rs (CBS, 2005-06) 84 3.40
Throwing out those first two 2005 Numb3rs eps, the show's second season actually hit higher levels than the first. It got particularly hot in early 2006, hitting 3.7 -> 3.7 -> 3.8 -> 3.7 in its first episodes of that calendar year.
Image 1. Ghost Whisperer (CBS, 2008-09) 85 2.54
Amusingly, the first nine shows on this all come from the era's first four years, so Ghost Whisperer in 2008-09 ends up #1 on the list despite having the worst raw numbers of the ten shows.This was GW's strongest relative season, picking up steam with an arc surrounding the lead's husband's death.

Notes: This list skews heavily toward the first half of the era, largely because Friday ratings in general really fell off starting with the strike year in 2007-08. They've rallied to a large degree over the last two seasons, but that rally has mostly been fueled by unscripted programming like Undercover Boss and Shark Tank (plus 20/20, which has benefited from the Shark Tank lead-in).

I have generally kept these lists to scripted programs, in part because there's a lot more interest in those, but mostly because including unscripted would take a lot of the variety away from some of these lists. I didn't really want to include 8+ American Idol seasons/episodes in every list. However, this might be a list where unscripted would shake things up a bit. There were at least three different Friday unscripted seasons that would outrate everything on the list: the winter 2006 Dancing with the Stars results shows (90), the 2005-06 Friday editions of Deal or No Deal (90) and the 2012-13 season of Shark Tank (88). Deal or No Deal also hit an 81 in 2006-07, while a few other unscripted shows like 1 vs. 100 (76 in 2006-07) and Undercover Boss (76 in 2012-13, 75 in 2011-12) would've just missed the list.

2013-14 Update: It was a very good year for Friday night programming in general, but at least on a scripted basis, it was more about depth than huge standouts. Hawaii Five-0 (76), Grimm (75) and Blue Bloods (74) all came up just shy of the 77 bar to make this list, while Last Man Standing (71) wasn't that far off either. Technically, the seven Friday Bones episodes (82) would've made it, though I don't know if I'd count that since it was less than a third of the full season.

The biggest Friday story of the season was on the unscripted front; Shark Tank (103) was easily the strongest Friday series in the era. Undercover Boss (80) and 20/20 (78) also contributed seasons that would've been good enough to crack the top 10 scripted list.

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