MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Spoiler alert! No, not the fates of Izzie and George, but this Nielsen character, who was behind the scenes in one of 11 (!) series finales last night. Based on Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings, network TV's May malaise continued, as only "Grey's" hit its original-episode season average. The other 10 season-enders ended below their normal 2008-2009 live-plus-same-day levels.
For this jam-packed Thursday, ABC won in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic with an overall 4.5/13, followed by CBS (3.4/9), Fox (2.8/8), NBC (2.3/6) and the CW (1.3/4).
"Grey's Anatomy" contained its drama to last night's season finale, because in the ratings, as expected, it dominated. The cliffhanger is how much it will improve when live-plus-same-day data are released late today, as DVRs will add more viewers on a night when TiVos worked overtime.
And "Grey's" just managed to index even with its season average. Compared with last year's live-plus-same-day season-finale rating, 18% fewer viewers tuned in for a season that preliminary data indicate was down 21%. The delivery for lead-in "Ugly Betty" wasn't too pretty either, off 17% from its normal level for an original episode.
The bigger drama may be what CBS's "CSI" will do to revive ratings, which have fallen far since star William Petersen yielded to new lead Laurence Fishburne. Last night's season finale (3.4/9), for instance, was off 31% from last year, and the season as a whole was down about 19%. This demo drop-off isn't key only for one of CBS's franchise shows but for the Thursday 10 p.m. time period, in which CBS may decide to launch a new show. Despite being down, "CSI" helped its spinoff "CSI: NY" (3.0/8), which ran its season finale out of its usual Wednesday time slot and was down a less severe 6% from both last year's capper and the season as a whole. At 8 p.m. "Survivor," which will have its season finale Sunday night, won the time slot with a 3.7/12. But it, too, was down about 5% from its season-to-date average.
Fox's recent rise over NBC on Thursday night is good news as the network prepares for Monday's upfront kickoff, but both "Bones" (2.5/8) and "Hell's Kitchen" (3.1/8) cooled 26% from its spring/summer finales last year. For the season, "Hell's Kitchen" and "Bones" tumbled 22% and 12%, respectively.
NBC had one of the night's few upsides, as, for once, quality meant quantity. Emmy and Golden Globe winner "30 Rock" (2.8/7) drew 8% more than last year's finale and about 17% more for the just-completed season. But "The Office," despite being equally lauded, was 17% lighter for its season finale, which delivered a 3.5/9. And despite the best promotional platform available, the spot after the Super Bowl, in its regularly scheduled slot "The Office" was only about even with last year's season average.
But given the audience attrition facing all networks, flat is the new up, and "The Office" and "30 Rock" will be cornerstones for NBC's schedule next year, and probably beyond. The future is less certain for "My Name is Earl," as its season finale (2.0/6) was off a third from last year and for the season it drew about 19% fewer viewers. Lead-out "Parks and Recreation" will return to the schedule next year, but its 2.0/6 tied for a six-week series low.
New drama "Southland" will also be on next fall's schedule, but it continued to fall as well, this time to a series low 1.7/5.
On the CW, as the season finale for "Supernatural" (1.3/3) was up a tenth of a ratings point from both last year's season finale and its season average. And even though lead-in "Smallville" (1.4/4) was lower than last year's season-ender and season average 18% and 6%, respectively, the two guy-friendly shows with male leads play well on a network focused on females.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: The fact that "Prison Break" was furloughed to Friday nights probably means most have lost track of the Fox drama, but former fans may want to see how it all ends on the series finale.
Saturday: With the night nearly all reality or series repeats, no season finales are scheduled. So flip to WGN America for "Sweet Dreams," the 1985 theatrical that earned Jessica Lange a best-actress Academy Award nomination for her pitch-perfect portrayal of doomed crooner Patsy Cline.
Sunday: OK, back to network season finales, this time for CBS's "Survivor"; ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Desperate Housewives"; and Fox's "Family Guy," "The Simpsons" and "American Dad." And for "King of the Hill," it's a series finale.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
TV to seem real slow a week from now, when the season -- and season finales -- finishes.
~ ~ ~
NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.