Defining Shows/Overall Thoughts:
We've already looked at a couple seasons that were notable as explosions for one particular category of programming. 2004-05 saw an incredible class of new dramas, while 2011-12 marked the explosion of several new and returning comedies. At least within the A18-49+ era, 2002-03 is the closest thing to a Year of Reality, welcoming in a new generation of unscripted hits that are still major players on the primetime landscape well over a decade later.
The two biggest long-term players to come out of this season were not technically new in 2002-03. The Bachelor aired a short first season late in 2001-02, while American Idol's opening season came in summer 2002. But this was the year they made major impacts on the regular season stage. American Idol (221 Tue/234 Wed) was a megahit immediately in its first regular season run, while The Bachelor (179 fall) and The Bachelorette (178) also became the strongest pieces on their network's entire schedule. ABC also got good numbers out of reality newbie Extreme Makeover (113), though that show's real long-term contribution was its spin-off Home Edition (introduced the next season).
But at least for this season, all these shows paled in comparison to Fox's phenomenon newbie Joe Millionaire (277). It was a trainwreck reality concept that premiered at a massive 10.1 rating and hopped up to a 12.9 for the penultimate week, a 14.9 for the first hour of the finale and a stratospheric 20.4 for the second hour of the finale. While this show was the ultimate flash in the pan situation, even its nine hours were helpful in Fox's significant rise this season.
Despite the unscripted breakouts on other networks, it was still another first-place season for NBC's primarily scripted-driven empire. But of the three Friends-era seasons with A18-49+ data, this was definitely NBC's weakest. The network kept its schedule incredibly similar to the dominant 2001-02 edition and got weaker on almost every front, including double-digit declines for staples like Friends (260), ER (248), Law and Order (149), Frasier (119) and The West Wing (111). On a year-to-year basis, the only real positives were sophomore Scrubs in its one year after Friends on Thursday (183) and a Sunday shake-up that put newbies American Dreams (87) and Boomtown (87) around a strengthening Law and Order: Criminal Intent (119).
This was CBS' weakest relative season in the whole A18-49+ era, despite the debuts of promising dramas CSI: Miami (153) and Without a Trace (121) helping the Monday and Thursday lineups respectively. The Monday growth was limited by the comedy anchors The King of Queens (101) and Everybody Loves Raymond (156) taking steps down. But CBS' only major nights of erosion were the Tuesday lineup, with bookends Judging Amy (89) and especially JAG (70) taking big drops, and the soon-to-disappear Saturday dramas (where The District dropped from 66 to 51). In reality, CBS' biggest problem in these relative numbers was the success of everyone else; their original average was down just 1%, but it came in a year of 2% growth for the big four as a whole.
New Scripted Shows:
Big Hits: Good Morning, Miami (154), CSI: Miami (153)
Hits: Wanda at Large (134)
Solid: Still Standing (122), Without a Trace (121), Hidden Hills (104), Oliver Beene (100)
Sub-solid renewals: 8 Simple Rules (94), Boomtown (87), American Dreams (87), Life with Bonnie (86), Less than Perfect (82), L.A. Dragnet (76), Hack (52)
Renews by network: ABC 4, CBS 4, NBC 3, Fox 2
From a scripted perspective, this was another one of those seasons like 2010-11 in which CBS churned out a few nice players and everyone else was pretty close to disastrous. The biggest win by far was the first spin-off of megahit CSI. CSI: Miami was a big hit that almost doubled the ratings in its timeslot year-to-year, and this season was actually its lowest Plus until season five. In a vacuum, Without a Trace didn't have impressive retention of CSI's audience, but it looked better because CBS had done a lot worse the prior season with The Agency. And Still Standing, while it paled in comparison to the show that would occupy its Monday 9:30 slot the next year (Two and a Half Men), at least churned out a few years of service for the network's Monday lineup and made it into syndication.
The only other show in the entire big four class to make it to four seasons was the modest ABC sitcom Less than Perfect. Fellow ABC Tuesday newbie 8 Simple Rules was the far bigger breakout initially, but it had eroded to a huge degree even by the end of season one. (That was before the death of John Ritter, which briefly bumped the ratings back up in season two but ultimately derailed things even further.)
Back when I had A18-49+ data going back to 2003-04, there was only a very limited snapshot of the frauds that had heavily inflated ratings as part of the NBC Thursday lineup. Good Morning, Miami was another example of this, but at least it scored a second season (unlike Coupling from 2003-04 and a couple even higher-rated examples from 2001-02).
It's interesting to note that though Fox had a huge bump in Idol's first season, the rise of Fox from that point forward was not a linear progression. The whole network was stronger in Idol's first (and, for a decade, weakest) regular season run than in the next two seasons. The rise to a whole new level of domination didn't commence till 2005-06. As bright a spot as Idol was, it did not exactly lift all boats initially; in fact, much of the network's mediocre but consistent schedule kinda fell apart over those next two seasons. This will become clearer in the Schedules Plus updates, but the network got particularly weaker on Sunday, Monday and Friday over those next two seasons.
The big story on the netlets this year was the unbelievable season two of Smallville (87), which keyed a monumental shift in the dynamic between UPN and the WB (a race that UPN had won decisively the previous season). The WB also had a massive improvement on Sunday thanks to moving Charmed (51) and Angel (46) to the night, and they rode some final season heat from Dawson's Creek (52) to a good season on Wednesday. While Smallville was taking a sophomore bounce to the biggest netlet season in the A18-49+ era, UPN's Enterprise (47) went completely the other way with a major sophomore slump.
Days of the Week:
Not much change here from the first year of the old A18-49+ era, with the Friends/ER vs. Survivor/CSI showdowns making Thursday the definitive night for entertainment programming.
Riding Joe Millionaire and CSI: Miami, the Monday original average got a solid bump from the previous season, and that would continue in 2003-04 when CBS introduced Two and a Half Men and NBC shook up its sagging lineup.
Time of Day:
Dramas, Sitcoms & Unscripted:
Unscripted programming was relatively dormant in 2001-02, as one of the defining shows in the circa-2000 boom Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? collapsed to embarrassing levels. The new blood in 2002-03 caused a huge surge vs. the 96 average for reality in 2001-02. It peaked the next year when Idol got stronger and NBC exploded into the game with The Apprentice and Average Joe, but 2002-03 was the season of biggest growth.
Repeats & Sports/Specials:
2001-02 | 2002-03 | 2003-04 | 2004-05 | 2005-06 | 2006-07 | 2007-08 | 2008-09 | 2009-10 | 2010-11 | 2011-12 | 2012-13 | 2013-14 | 2014-15