The 2004-2005 broadcast season had more unexpected twists than a summer reality show. Fox took its first win in the important demo of adults 18 to 49, while CBS provided knockout performances everywhere else; ABC's revival and NBC's decline also surprised everyone.
Despite a lukewarm reception NBC plans to keep "Will & Grace" in its Thursday-night slot, along with "ER." The formerly strong sitcom is down 40.8% in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic against last year and enters its final season come fall, while "ER" is down 20.9% in 18-to-49-year-olds.
Similarly, media-agency researchers noted that Mark Burnett's "The Apprentice" was down 30% in total households between season one and season three. Season one aired during the 2003-2004 season, while seasons two and three aired during 2004-2005. Still, the show will return in two separate guises, one fronted by Donald Trump, the other by Martha Stewart.
The Wednesday-night edition of "Law & Order" doesn't exactly have viewers locked up, either: The drama dropped off by 24.1% in 18-to-49-year-old viewers. "Scrubs," benched until lead actor Zach Braff completes a movie with the Weinstein brothers, was off by 38%.
Fox also saw a big drop-off-30.6%-for "Malcolm in the Middle," which is being shifted to Friday. Its big hit, "The O.C.," was down 29.5%, but held its own among the younger set. The teen-oriented melodrama also moved to a tougher slot on Thursday nights. "That `70s Show," set to lose two main actors in Ashton Kutcher and Topher Grace when it returns next season, tumbled 30.6%.
BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW...
Over on ABC, which came back from the dead thanks to "Lost," "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy," still has some clunkers on the schedule, which again will be back for fall. "Less Than Perfect" was down 37.8%. "The Bachelor" saw its 18-49 rating drop 37.9% while "The Bachelorette" dropped 25%.
At the WB, "Smallville" was down 4.8% and "Reba" lost 13.3% of its household audience. While CBS nixed most of its underperformers, the ironically titled "Still Standing" was down 22.5% and is coming back.
Brad Adgate, senior VP-corporate research at Carat, part of Aegis Group, says some of the drops could be explained by shows which were moved or simply faced tougher time periods: "The entertainment people at the networks think that its better to keep what they have than [roll out] what they have in development. There's a high failure rate for new shows."
"There are reasons for keeping shows on air and giving them different lead ins and outs,"says Lyle Schwartz, senior VP-director national research, Mediaedge:CIA. "It's not just about the audience."
A number of buyers, who spoke on background, were expecting a bumper midseason for the 2005-2006 and were amenable to buying poorer-performing shows on the expectation of landing their clients in the next big hit come January.
Indeed many of the hits of this latest season were not fall launches. "Grey's Anatomy" made its debut late in the season, as did Pamela Anderson's, "Stacked," which returns in fall on Fox. Mr. Adgate mentioned other late bloomers such as "Cuts" on UPN, "Living with Fran" on the WB. ABC in particular is believed to have a strong midseason-development slate with "Emily's Reasons Why Not," and "What About Brian," both launching in January along with buzzed-about "Treasure Hunters" on NBC, a reality show.