Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The War of 18-49, Chicago Fire

The Perilous Opening Weeks

As great as things look now, it's easy to forget that it actually looked like Chicago Fire could be a fight for short-term existence in its first weeks on air. It premiered OK, with 6.61 million viewers and a 1.9 demo rating on 10/10/2012, which was actually a tenth above its Law and Order: SVU lead-in. But week two brought a 20%ish drop for ChiFi, down to a fairly shaky 1.5 rating. It got a much-needed rebound in week three, to a 1.8, and hung in the high-1's for most of the rest of the fall. There were a couple more bad points later in the fall, dropping as low as 1.4 (in one case when it had to lead out of low-rated game show Take it All), but there were enough good points that it got the back nine.

It opened 2013 on a new series high 2.4, and had several weeks in the low-2's as it was able to avoid competing CSI on several occasions. It didn't drop below 1.6 in the second half of season one. While the numbers were still below the league average for the most part, it was definitely enough for a renewal on drama-starved NBC.

Off to Tuesday

It was also enough for a timeslot upgrade, as NBC shifted it to Tuesday and gave it a nice dose of direct lead-ins from The Voice starting in season two. It set a series high 2.7 in its first Tuesday episode, which still stands as the raw series high, and went even higher in Plus for the season three premiere (2.6) a year later.

That Voice exposure helped produce a significant sophomore bounce for Fire, but the timeslot was not as favorable when Voice returned to 8/7c and comedies were installed at 9/8c. This first happened in the second half of season two with About a Boy and Growing Up Fisher, and then pretty much throughout the next season. Fire particularly impressed in the middle of season three, when comedies Marry Me and About a Boy dropped deep into the zeroes, but Fire still hung onto mid-1's.

More Growth with Med

In season four, Fire didn't seem to get as much help from the direct post-Voice exposure for some reason; it was actually down around 30% in the first couple weeks of season four. But it was stronger than ever when Voice moved back to 8:00, thanks in large part to the spin-off Chicago Med being installed at 9/8c. It was up significantly in raw numbers through the winter months, when compared with the post-About a Boy episodes.

In addition to its own strong ratings trend, Chicago Fire also spawned two successful spin-offs (though Chicago Justice only lasted one season). So this show's significance in the NBC comeback can't be understated. Fire is still the strongest of the Chicago bunch for now, and it's actually getting pretty close to what Law and Order: SVU was doing in its prime years in this Tuesday 10/9c slot. However, Med was off to another night for 2016-17, with This Is Us taking over as the 9/8c lead-in.

The newbie This is Us was a huge breakout, but it didn't seem to make a lot of difference for the Chicago Fire audience. It didn't get much help from This Is Us or much hurt from another round of late-season comedy flops, and we've seen that stubborn quality become even more pronounced over time. In season six, Chicago Fire made a brief stop on Thursday, where it took a big ratings decline as it aired after bomb comedies Great News and later Champions. But season seven offered better scheduling, and a huge turnaround, as Fire aired between its spin-offs Med at 8/7c and PD at 10/9c, and then the whole trio soared to new heights in 2019-20.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

12012-13Wednesday 10:001.821.42.4detail
22013-14Tuesday 10:002.03+11%1.72.7detail
62017-18Thursday 10:001.08-29%0.91.5detailB
72018-19Wednesday 9:001.21+12%1.01.4detailA-

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

102021-22156big hit0.66+7%133178169157


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

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