Tuesday, May 30, 2023

A18-49+: Party Like It's 1999

I'm very happy to announce that the so-called "A18-49+ Era" (the period across which we have sufficient data to calculate a "league average" and thus translate all raw ratings into historical-adjusted A18-49+ ratings) will be expanding on the back side one more (final?) time, with the addition of the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons being added in the Schedules Plus updates this summer. Coupled with the newly added 2022-23 season, this means we will have a whooping 24 seasons covered by this metric! That's basically a full generation in the traditional sense of the word, and in terms of how much the TV industry has changed over this time, it may as well be a millennium.

Huge thanks to recent uploads by Ratings Ryan for making this possible, and if you want to see the raw numbers, I strongly encourage you to visit his huge trove where full 18-49 ratings are available for almost every night starting with fall 1999. Prior to his work, I already had a significant portion of the 2000-01 season, though not nearly enough to estimate a league average, and very little from 1999-00. Now the archive includes 100% of the 1999-00 regular season and more than 98% of the 2000-01 regular season. There may also be small adjustments from previously published numbers in 2001-02 and 2002-03 as I filled in a handful of missing weeks in those seasons (though mostly holiday weeks with few originals). This may be as far back as we will ever be able to go, as it appears the trade magazines didn't fully cover the 18-49 demo prior to 1999-00.

Adding these two seasons gives us some more valuable insight into the time when TV was all about the big four networks. On a personal level, I love having these two seasons because they contain some of the first things I ever regularly watched live in primetime, like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? starting in fall 1999 and season one of Survivor in summer 2000.

You may not have that kind of connection. For all I know, you may not even have been born yet in these seasons! But I still think this addition will provide value for everyone who's interested in this site's metrics, because there are a surprising number of franchises still airing today that originated in this time frame. We already had the raw numbers for the first two seasons of Survivor in 2000 and 2001, but now we can put them in full Plus context. Law & Order: SVU premiered in fall 1999 and Big Brother in summer 2000. CSI (still technically alive through the CSI: Vegas revival) was a product of the 2000-01 season. While we still can't quite get all the way back to the beginning on Family Guy (its brief first run came in late spring 1999), we will now have a much better sense of what that show looked like prior to its first cancellation.

Several other notable but long-gone franchises will now have a complete A18-49+ record with these seasons, including but not limited to: The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, Angel, Malcolm in the Middle, My Wife and Kids, Judging Amy and Third Watch. I may end up doing War of 18-49 posts for a handful of these shows or, at the very least, an updated version of my pre-2001 drama and comedy posts. Plus, we now have a much fuller look at the big circa 2000 reality TV boom, including all the data on Millionaire? and some of the early breakouts like Temptation Island.

(I hate to be greedy, but it's kinda sad how we could add Will & Grace, That '70s Show, The King of Queens and Charmed if we just had 1998-99...)

Anyway, most of the data entry on this actually took place at the tail end of last summer, too late to incorporate in the Schedules Plus updates. I had planned on doing this post and maybe some other stuff with the old numbers in the winter, but it didn't happen. Instead, we're going to try to knock it all out this summer. It's a very light season for the usual fourth-season War of 18-49 updates (only three scripted shows from the class of 2019-20 made it to season four as far as I can tell), so I hope to throw in some older ones as well. We will also do a refresh on the chartable comparisons and the career 18-49+ table with the new numbers.

With that being said, I didn't want to do this post and not have any actual content, so let's just take a quick look at the league averages and the network stats.


So both of these seasons had a noticeably higher league average than any of the seasons that came after, somewhat supporting the notion that this is a time when the "true league average" is slightly declining, but variations within the individual show performance each season can produce either a slight increase (2002-03), a fairly significant decrease (2001-02 and 2003-04) or an almost dead even average (2000-01, 2004-05, 2005-06). In this period, it seems like the average expected decline would be somewhere in the -3% or -4%ish area. Then you have close to a decade after that when it's clearly much higher (-10%ish), and then the last six or seven years in which it's only continued to accelerate (though 2022-23 was down less than the previous couple years).

Since 1999-00 and 2000-01 had exactly the same league average, does that mean the landscape stayed the same? Well... no. Not even close. In fact, these two years had some of the most seismic shifts among the big four networks in the entire era.


We'll start with the less interesting networks. With this new data, we get two more years of NBC firmly in its Must See TV mode, but it turns out these seasons looked more like the tail end of the Friends run from 2002-04, while 2001-02 still represents by far the high water mark at least from what we have. And Fox added a couple more average-ish years, hanging in there prior to the rise of American Idol that would shoot it to new heights in the second half of the aughts. 2000-01 was a lot stronger than the seasons around it, in part because they found a bunch of decent performers to fill out the schedule like Boston Public and Dark Angel, plus breakout reality series Temptation Island, but it wasn't all that exciting a story overall.

Then we have ABC's 1999-00 season, which is on a completely different level from any other incarnation of ABC we've seen in the entire A18-49+ era. Anyone with passing knowledge of the time will probably tell you that what happened was ABC found Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and then absolutely ran it into the ground across almost every night of the week. That is certainly the biggest part of how the network got to a frickin' 120 average for the entire schedule. But we weren't talking about peak American Idol here. Even at its best, Millionaire was only a little ways into megahit territory, and it ended up averaging 190ish on the weeknights during this regular season.

To post a 120 average across the whole network, ABC needed a potent scripted stable on top of that. I particularly want to shout out shows like The Drew Carey Show and Dharma & Greg, which in this season were putting up big hit numbers even prior to Millionaire coming onto the scene. They were every bit as strong as stuff like Frasier and Will and Grace (at least when they aired on Tuesday away from Friends and ER) and Everybody Loves Raymond. Personally, I never really had the sense that they were that big prior to looking at these numbers. Maybe it was because they skewed young and didn't get as much love from total viewers-based analysts. But two to three years later, by the time Millionaire had flamed out, the ABC sitcom department had plummeted into irrelevancy as well: not a good recipe for the network, and it set off a multi-year slump that ABC only crawled out of with its huge scripted class of 2004-05. The network also had tentpole dramas like The Practice and NYPD Blue which were stronger in 1999-00 than they would ever be going forward, but their declines were more gradual.

1999-00 also gives us a look at a CBS that was massively weaker than it has ever been in two-plus decades since. Remember, season one of Survivor aired entirely in the summer of 2000, so it didn't count in the league average or in the CBS numbers for 1999-00, and CSI wasn't on the scene yet either. The only show to cross the hit label in CBS' 1999-00 regular season was Everybody Loves Raymond, and just barely (132), while only Raymond's lead-out Becker (109) and the Sunday drama Touched By an Angel (102) even crossed the league average! It was actually kinda reminiscent of NBC's doldrums in its worst years prior to the premiere of The Voice, in which the network had one OK comedy anchor (The Office in NBC's case) and very little else of note. Going forward, the Monday comedies beefing up helped, but the lion's share of CBS' rise across the next two years basically came from going from the likes of Diagnosis Murder on Thursdays (it was getting less than a 50 Plus!) all the way to being competitive with NBC's megahits thanks to Survivor and CSI.

I think that's all I've got for now. I'm not sure that I will be able to get much done on this beyond the normal The Breakdown rotation, but at the very least we will get those two additional seasons added in on the Schedules Plus posts when they get updated. The Breakdown should kick off next week. See you then!

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