Monday, June 15, 2015

The War of 18-49, Last Man Standing

A Self-Starter Built on Nostalgia

2011-12 was a season marked by many big initial samplings for comedies, and Last Man Standing had one of the most impressive starts of all since it didn't have some huge primetime program leading in. Instead, it drew its 13.19 million viewers and 3.6 demo rating from the audience that once made Tim Allen's series Home Improvement a perennial top ten show in the '90s. It dropped to a 3.1 in week two and a 2.8 in week three, but then it held in the upper-2's for most of the rest of the fall and winter.

Things got legitimately shaky for Last Man late in season one, as the show fell into the 1's after daylight saving time and as low as a 1.5 on 5/1/12. It's worth noting that this number was about on par with the lowest historical-adjusted ratings of even the three Friday LMS seasons, so it was a pretty undesirable number leading off a weeknight. However, it had shown enough strength for most of the season that it was renewed... but shifted to low-viewed Friday, where the seemingly fast fading show could've fallen into oblivion.

But ABC had another nostalgia card to play: Reba McEntire, whose newbie Malibu Country joined Last Man for the Friday comedy hour. This brought another vital swath of viewers back. Malibu Country premiered at a 2.3 demo, an awesome number for Friday, and that helped get its lead-in Last Man Standing back to a 2.0 for its Friday debut (which was somewhat miraculously above its last five Tuesday ratings).

Leading Off A Dominant ABC Friday

By its second month, Malibu Country was no longer exceeding or maintaining its lead-in, and it settled at low-to-very-low-1's. That got it cancelled after one season. But considerably more of the initial audience stuck around with Last Man Standing, which was able to stabilize at around a 1.4 to 1.5. So it got another crack at the night for 2013-14.

Season three didn't have the premiere night inflation, and it had a rather disastrous lead-out in The Neighbors, but Last Man Standing still managed to take only a league average decline, and it was much less than that in the second half of the season. The show that had become such a post-DST disaster in season one held up as well as almost anything in the late-season months during seasons three and four. The whole hour got stronger, relatively speaking, in 2014-15, as 8:30 occupant Cristela was less problematic than The Neighbors (though still cancelled) and Last Man's tiny drops continued. Last Man's spike to 1.6 when former Home Improvement star Patricia Richardson guested was just about on par with the season two premiere as the biggest Friday episode in Plus.

Season five didn't get to the same heights, but continued the tradition of growth in A18-49+, making it one of ABC's strongest Friday occupants on record. It also launched Dr. Ken, which was easily the highest-rated Friday Last Man lead-out yet.

The sixth and final season was another ratings triumph, with an even faster growth rate in Plus than the last two seasons. It included a 1.5 in January, which set a new high for Plus in the Friday run and even beat most of the Plus scores from season one on Tuesday. But Last Man Standing was a show that had always been a late renewal due to tough negotiations with the Fox studio. So despite all that ratings improvement, time finally ran out on Last Man after six seasons.

The Fox Rescue

Last Man's nonexistence lasted for just one season, and then Fox decided to take a stab with it for fall 2018. The environment had already proven ripe for revivals that tap into the culture wars (most notably Roseanne), and Last Man Standing proved another huge success in that vein. It opened to a sensational 8.13 million viewers and 1.8 demo on 9/28/18. It fell a lot from there (more than half the premiere demo was gone by the spring), but ended up with a raw average less than a tenth below its final ABC season two years previous. Even after settling, it was a far stronger show on a historical-adjusted basis than it had ever been on ABC, though a big drop in season eight brought it back to its late ABC levels.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

12011-12Tuesday 8:002.421.53.6detail
22012-13Friday 8:001.49-38%1.32.0detail
8Winter 2020Thursday 8:000.74-32%0.61.0detailC-
92021Thu 9:30, Thu 9:000.42-43%0.30.6detailD+

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

8Winter 202090marginal0.58-21%7211611683


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

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