Monday, May 25, 2015

The War of 18-49, Scandal

Humble Beginnings

ABC's Scandal opened its run as a midseason replacement with just a seven-episode order. It was saved for the last two months of the TV season and given the cushy timeslot after Thursday powerhouse Grey's Anatomy. It premiered at a very modest 7.33 million viewers and 2.0 A18-49 rating on 4/5/2012. This was actually below all 16 Thursday episodes of previous occupant Private Practice that season, and it was pretty mediocre retention of its lead-in from Grey's Anatomy (2.9).

Scandal needed to hold that premiere rating very well to have a shot, and it did just that, matching that 2.0 rating in each of the next three airings. But even that great hold was met with some skepticism, as the Grey's Anatomy lead-in picked up considerably (to 3.3) starting in week two. Scandal inched down to 1.9 in weeks five and six and could have lost out for renewal to fellow midseason newbie GCB (which was just barely lower with a weaker lead-in from Desperate Housewives).

But Scandal pulled through, picked up for 13 more episodes after Grey's in the fall, and a spike to 2.3 for the season finale provided some promise for season two. But the promise was not initially realized; early on in season two, Scandal continued to linger right around the same old 2.0. Considering Grey's Anatomy was still in the low-3's, this wasn't impressive. It could've been in real trouble again, but ABC had bigger problems like the new dramas Last Resort and 666 Park Ave, so Scandal scored its back nine episodes late in October. This was before any sign of...

The Season Two Spark

After toiling around 2.0 for six weeks early in season two, something finally clicked for Scandal at the end of its fall 2012 run. The show grew to a new season high 2.2 on November 29, then a new series high 2.5 the next week. It rose to 2.8 in its return from holiday hiatus on January 10, 2013 and spent most of that winter and spring in the 2.6-2.8 range. And once again, it had a very strong finish to a run of episodes; it exploded to 3.2 for the penultimate episode of season two, building on its Grey's lead-in for the first time, and it stayed there for the season finale.

The Ratings Prime

Those 3.2's to end season two kicked off a year and a half across which Scandal was the top drama on broadcast TV. In season three, it had some of the best historical-adjusted ratings for a 10:00 show since the heydays of ER and CSI: Miami. Throughout season three and the first half of season four, Scandal mostly hung around 3.0, and it was capable of going much higher for premieres and finales; both the season three premiere (3.6) and the season four premiere (3.8 on 9/25/14) marked new series highs. If anything, the show seemed to be gaining even more steam when it came back early in 2015, as a storyline in which Olivia Pope was kidnapped produced four straight results above 3.0.

The First Warning Signs

"Down" had never really been in Scandal's vocabulary until one nightmarish run in spring 2015. After ending its February run on a stellar 3.3, it returned to three consecutive three-tenth drops, and two weeks after that it fell all the way to 2.1 on 4/2/15. This was a whooping 1.2 points of slippage in just five episodes.

It made a rather impressive recovery early in fall 2015, opening the season by getting all the way back to a 3.3. But many more drops soon followed, and there was a lot less interest from the start when it returned for the spring half of the season. Even though it was being compared against that spring 2015 collapse, its drops still accelerated in spring 2016, culminating with a new low 1.5 a couple times late in the season. At this point, it seems almost certain that the 171 from season four will end up being peak Scandal.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

1Spring 2012Thursday 10:
42014-15Thursday 9:002.87-6%2.13.8detail

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

1Spring 201285marginal1.2480978597
32013-14162big hit2.36+36%149191191180
42014-15171big hit2.49+6%125226226137


The War of 18-49 chronicles the ratings history of veteran primetime series. For more, see the Index.

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