Networks blame a ratings downturn during the just-concluded 2006-07 season on a number of factors, inclduing delayed viewing on DVRs and the early onset of Daylight Saving Time.
They acknowledge that creative difficulties for some shows, including Fox’s 24 and ABC’s Lost, and increased competition also likely played a significant role in the declines. Only 13 series saw gains this season.
Many strong series were forced to face off against each other, crammed together to avoid American Idol, which remains a powerhouse despite weakened ratings.
To steer clear of Idol on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the networks squeezed most of television’s top shows into three jam-packed nights—Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays—during the second half of the season.
With Fridays becoming a graveyard and Saturdays now considered the “loneliest night of the week,” as CBS chief Leslie Moonves once famously put it, there was nowhere else to go.Competition on the three key nights was so intense that shows still considered to be “hot” occasionally finished fourth.Even ABC’s heavily hyped Grey’s Anatomy, which ties with Fox’s House as the top-rated scripted series, saw its 18-49 ratings erode 9%, from an 8.9 the previous season on Sundays to an 8.1 at 9 p.m. Thursdays. CBS’ CSI, which went against it, sank 21%, from an 8.4 to a 6.6.
“There are a lot of good shows facing a lot of good competition,” says a network executive, who asked not to be identified. “It used to be that they could be spread out over an entire week, but there’s not a lot of open real estate anymore.”
Even without much in the way of strong competition, Idol saw its still hefty adult 18-49 ratings shrink 7% this season on Tuesdays (from 12.9 to 12.0). That was still good enough to boost lead-out House 19%, to 8.1. The medial show created buzz when it caught up with its once invincible lead-in toward the end of the season. On Wednesdays, Idol remained flat at a 12.3.
And last week’s season finale of Idol—which culminated in the anti-climactic crowning of Jordin Sparks during a bloated telecast that ran nine minutes long (negatively impacting ratings for the local newscasts that followed)—plunged 19%, from a 14.2 rating/35 share a year ago to an 11.5/31.
ABC performed worse with the season finale of Lost. Airing against the second hour of Idol from 9 to 10:09 p.m. Wednesday, it dove 22% to a 5.9/15 from a 7.6/18 last May. For the entire season, however, ratings for Lost were down just 3%, from 6.5 to 6.3.
The difficulties this season for most new and returning serialized dramas, including ABC’s Desperate Housewives (plummeting 26%, to 6.9 from 9.3), did not affect NBC’s freshman serial Heroes, which was the top-rated new series.
Continuing a trend that made serialized fare like Lost, Housewives and Grey’s hits in recent years, Heroes ranked as the seventh-highest-rated network series overall, with a 6.4/15.