'CSI's' Missing Persons Case

Rash Report: CBS Hit Faces Audience Attrition; ABC's 'Grey's Anatomy' Leads

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- This may be the toughest case for CBS's "CSI" yet: Where did its audience go?

'CSI' saw a 24% demo drop after replacing original star, William Peterson, with Laurence Fishburne (pictured) last year.
'CSI' saw a 24% demo drop after replacing original star, William Peterson, with Laurence Fishburne (pictured) last year. Credit: CBS
One of the decade's signature series, "CSI" generated a genre that has become the dominant dramatic narrative on CBS, let alone the influence it's had on rival network grids. But since peaking with a 10.0/25 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic during its fifth season five years ago, this year's original episode average rating is only 38% this year.

Several of the usual suspects could be rounded up: Nearly every show, even a game- and genre-changing hit like "CSI" starts to decline in-between its fifth and seventh seasons. And "CSI" is now in a more crime ridden neighborhood, at least considering the stolen shares by more recent hits like ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and NBC's "The Office."

But some of the drop-off can be attributed to its original star, William Peterson, dropping out, and replaced last winter by Laurence Fishburne. On paper, it was a good move: Peterson may have been a small screen star, but Fishburne was a big screen one, with critical acclaim, an Oscar nomination and two Emmy wins.

But in just one of the many ways TV inverts film, fans seem to prefer the obscure Peterson over the celebrated Fishburne, as evidenced by the 24% demo drop after last year's transition.

And last night was even worse, at least according to Nielsen fast affiliate ratings (final live + same day data will be released Friday afternoon), as "CSI" (3.4/9) was 11% off its season to date original episode average, tying the average of NBC's comedic combination of "The Office" (3.9/10) and "30 Rock" (2.9/7), but losing to "Grey's Anatomy" (5.0/13). (Fox's "Fringe" delivered a 1.7/4 and the CW's "Supernatural" a 1.2/3 during the hour.)

"CSI's" missing persons has also tamped down the primetime potential of its lead-out, "The Mentalist." Last year's breakout hit ran Tuesday at 9 p.m. and had a 3.7/9 original episode average. This year, after "CSI," "The Mentalist" is averaging a 3.6/10, and last night was off 6% to a 3.4/10. It lost to ABC's "Private Practice" (3.5/10), a series that was resuscitated, if not rescued, by being paired with the show it spun off from, "Grey's Anatomy." (Both, as usual, beat NBC's "Jay Leno Show," which delivered a 1.6/5.)

CBS did finish a close second for the night with an overall 3.5/9, based mostly on the success of "Survivor," which won the 8 p.m. hour by matching its 3.7/10 average. This was well above ABC's fading "FlashForward," which hit a series low 2.6/7. But while dragging down ABC's overall average to a 3.7/10, the network still finished first.

Fox finished fourth with a 2.1/6, as "Bones," which hit a season low 2.5/7.

NBC was third with a 2.4/7, and was helped by "Community" (2.3/6, a time period high) and "Parks and Recreation" (a season high 2.2/6).

Rash gridsEnlarge
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

The CW, while finishing fifth with an overall 1.6/4, can be heartened that its hit "Vampire Diaries" is not only performing well with its desired demo of young females, but matched last week's 2.0/5, which is just a tenth of a ratings point below its promising premiere delivery.

As for "CSI," while down, it's not out, and is likely to remain on for some time to come. And CBS has been deft in developing its new forensic franchise, "NCIS" and "NCIS: Los Angeles," with "NCIS" defying television gravity by growing in its seventh season.

Friday: While Clint Eastwood's perhaps better known for his iconic "spaghetti westerns," it was actually 1992's "Unforgiven" that was his only cowboy film to win a Best Picture Academy Award. Find out why on AMC.
Saturday and Sunday: Want to really get a sense of how much TV -- and society -- has changed since the mid-century "Mad Men" era? Watch the season finale of the Emmy winner on AMC Sunday night, just a day after the series premiere of "The Wanda Sykes Show" on Fox.

Sampling for Sykes' show, but a much bigger audience for "Saturday Night Live," which has Taylor Swift in the dual role of host and musical guest.

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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.

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