Defining Shows/Overall Thoughts:
The 2001-02 season wasn't the last one in which NBC rode Friends and ER to the top of the ratings charts. But it was probably the last time that the network's grip on primetime seemed unbreakable. As a network, NBC's originals averaged a whooping 128 in A18-49+, a number about on par with the very biggest years of Fox's prime in the late aughts. I would argue this number was even more impressive than anything Fox did, since NBC didn't devote as much time to one individual giga-hit and also had to program the 10:00 hour.
Of course, Thursday was the NBC highlight as always, with bookends Friends (303) and ER (297) sandwiching a still very strong 9:00 hour of Will and Grace (224) and Just Shoot Me (187). But what made NBC stand so far ahead of its 2002-03/2003-04 counterparts was the increased strength on Tuesday and Wednesday. In particular, the 2001-02 editions of The West Wing (159) and Frasier (157) were miles ahead of the ratings they'd pull in subsequent seasons. And Monday was competitive, especially at midseason when the sophomore reality series Fear Factor (142) was introduced. The network's only real holes were the pre-Frasier hour on Tuesday (initially led by infamous disaster Emeril (63)), and the modest Sunday lineup led by newbie Law & Order: Criminal Intent (99) and the final run of Weakest Link (77).
In the fight for the scraps, CBS finished second, mostly because they had some actual legit bright spots. Everybody Loves Raymond (179) anchored a very solid two-hour comedy lineup on Monday, while Survivor (197 fall/201 spring) led into burgeoning megahit CSI (203) to give NBC a real run for its money on Thursday (at least for the first two hours). But it was still only barely ahead of third-place Fox because the network was so uncompetitive on other nights. The only other hour on the entire schedule to even break league average was Tuesday's Judging Amy (100). A far cry from the consistently decent CBS schedules we've seen in modern times, the CBS of these days was actually the most "feast or famine" network of all.
That left Fox just behind CBS for third and ABC in a distant fourth. Considering the network averages, one might think these schedules were full of holes. But they actually had surprisingly few huge problem areas; the only deeply pressing issue for both was Thursday, when competing against the Survivor/Friends/CSI/ER gauntlet remained an impossibility. To put it simply, these networks struggled because they just didn't have hits. In fact, the only hit entertainment hour on the two networks combined was Fox's Sunday 8/7c combo of The Simpsons (143) and Malcolm in the Middle (133). The closest ABC got was Sunday 10/9c drama The Practice (122). Beyond that, there was plenty of league average-ish blandness.
New Scripted Shows:
Big Hits: Leap of Faith (184), Inside Schwartz (178)
Hits: Scrubs (142)
Solid: Crossing Jordan (119), The Bernie Mac Show (107), Alias (105), Baby Bob (104), According to Jim (100)
Sub-solid renewals: Law and Order: CI (99), 24 (98), Watching Ellie (98), Andy Richter Controls the Universe (88), The Agency (86), George Lopez (81), The Guardian (78)
Renews by network: ABC 3, CBS 2, NBC 4, Fox 3
NBC's wealth as a network extended into the newbie class, where they produced the top four of the season. Unfortunately... the first two aired directly after the 303-rated Friends, and NBC didn't mess around with giving them a chance to collapse elsewhere. The other two were a different story; Scrubs (142) had very good retention of Frasier on Tuesday, and Crossing Jordan built noticeably on Third Watch on Monday. Those two along with Law and Order: CI were ultimately long-term decent but unspectacular performers for NBC.
ABC and Fox also produced some long-term decent players in this season, but nothing that went on to be a huge player. The Bernie Mac Show, Alias, According to Jim, 24 and George Lopez all ran for 5+ seasons, but 24 was the only one that ever produced a hit season. CBS pretty thoroughly struck-out; CSI lead-out The Agency moved to Saturday for season two and failed to ignite the night, while The Guardian got three seasons on Tuesday but continued to deteriorate.
The biggest newbie excitement in 2001-02 came on the netlets. Initially, the biggest win was UPN's Star Trek series Enterprise (79), which opened at a simply colossal 6.3 rating (146 A18-49+) but was at less than half of that in the second half of the season. WB's Smallville (70) opened at a much lower (if still very good) 3.8 but held a lot better post-premiere and was actually out-rating Enterprise in spring comparisons. Those trends continued big-time in their respective sophomore seasons, when Smallville stepped up to another level. Enterprise became just another solid player by netlet standards and ultimately ended after four seasons.
Amazingly, this was the weakest season in the A18-49+ era for both ABC and Fox (though Fox may finally break that record in 2014-15), and the third-weakest for CBS! I guess a network averaging a 128 with a three-hour primetime sucks a lot of the relative oxygen out of the room. Since NBC's collapse began in 2004-05, only one three-hour network has ever even broken a 110 (CBS in 2011-12), so we don't really have a modern frame of reference for NBC's domination in this year.
In the other four years of the UPN/WB battle chronicled by A18-49+, WB always emerged on top, which makes 2001-02's drastic shift in the other direction all the more striking. The biggest difference for UPN in this season was the Enterprise-led Wednesday. That show had a 79 this season and dropped like a rock to 47 the next season, and its failed rookie lead-outs followed suit. However, UPN had other nights in 2001-02 that would never be nearly as strong again, like Tuesday with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (61). And the WWE franchise on Thursday (59) was about 10 points ahead of its level in future seasons.
Days of the Week:
Time of Day:
Dramas, Sitcoms & Unscripted:
As noted in the 2002-03 post, the 2001-02 season was something of a "tweener" year in the middle of the reality TV boom, after the dominance of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? but before the rise of American Idol, The Bachelor and The Apprentice. Once-huge Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? finished out its run as a ratings non-factor, with regular runs on Monday at 8/7c before football (62) and on Thursday at 9/8c (53). And Temptation Island, a very strong newbie for Fox in 2000-01, was another Joe Millionaire-esque sophomore flameout for Fox, fizzling to just a 75 Plus in its 2001-02 run.
Repeats & Sports/Specials:
One of the most important revelations from all this A18-49+ stuff has been the decreased value of repeats over time. Adding two more previous years to the fold, they get even more valuable. We now know that the average repeat in the 2001-02 season was a whooping 81% of the average original. That number has been below 50% in recent seasons.
Though series repeats have gotten weaker, networks have to have a certain volume of filler, so they haven't drastically decreased in volume since the beginning of the era. What has drastically decreased is the volume of movies. In addition to CBS' regular Sunday 9/8c movie night (which lasted all the way to 2006), in 2001-02 and 2002-03 ABC was still airing The Wonderful World of Disney movies instead of original series from 7:00 to 9:00 on Sundays. Regularly-scheduled movies were also one of Fox's primary choices for surviving the Thursday gauntlet in these years. Movies took up 14% of the primetime real estate on the big four in 2001-02 and 13% in 2002-03; in seasons since 2011-12, that number has been just 2%.
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