MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Single-camera sitcoms and elliptical, nonepisodic dramas have upped network TV's creative quotient this decade. But they've mostly been a demographic downer, particularly among the 18- to 49-year-olds sought by advertisers. But scripted series can still succeed, as Fox's "House" and CBS's "The Big Bang Theory" showed with their season finales Monday night.
"House" has a straight narrative of a heroic doctor saving patients. But the impatient, imprudent Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is a postmodern Marcus Welby, in need of (and often taking) many of the meds he uses to solve medical mysteries. And "Big Bang" is an old-fashioned multi-camera laugh-track comedy, but with the novel notion of casting geek-chic anti-heroes Johnny Galecki (Leonard) and Jim Parsons (Sheldon).
While both blend TV's old and new schools, their season-finale deliveries diverged, at least compared with last year. "House" -- the night's top-rated show in the 18-to-49 demo, with a 4.7/14 rating and share -- was down 19% from last spring's season-ender. Conversely "Big Bang" was up 32% from last year's last episode, at 3.7/11. And even though it was off a tenth of a ratings point from this season's original-episode average, for the year it was up 15%.
Fittingly, Fox and CBS tied for first for the night with a 3.9/11, followed by ABC (3.6/10), NBC (1.8/5) and the CW (1.2/3).
"House" lead-out "24" (3.2/8), which will have a two-hour finale next week, fell 14%. CBS's other three Monday-night sitcoms, which will also have season-cappers next week, were all off this week: "How I Met Your Mother" (3.6/10) and "Two and a Half Men" (4.5/12) tumbled 12%, while "Rules of Engagement" (3.6/9) was down 8%. At 10 p.m., however, time-slot winner "CSI: Miami" (3.9/11) was just a tenth of a ratings point low.
NBC's fourth-place finish was partly due to a 1.1/3 for "Deal or No Deal," which led into two versions of "Medium" (2.0/5 at 9 p.m. and 2.3/6 at 10 p.m.).
The CW's "Gossip Girl" also had its penultimate episode, and may have been more about season premieres than finales anyway, as its story line set up a rumored spinoff next fall. But this spring it's still struggling a bit (albeit perhaps with its intended audience's parents), as it declined 14% from its season average in the demo to a 1.2/3. Lead-out "One Tree Hill" fell further, down 27% to a 1.1/3 for its second-to-last episode.
Of course, it's the ratings of reality TV that have forced scripted series to experiment in the first place. ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," for example, was the third-highest-rated show of the night, with a 4.2/11 -- although that delivery slipped 16% to this spring season's low. It led into the series finale of "Castle" (2.4/7), a scripted series about writers that just may have written its last chapter -- or not. Stay tuned, as script writers say -- not to the next episode but to ABC's upfront presentation next week, which will reveal the fate of "Castle."
WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: TV's best broadcast journalists examine the worst villain (so far) of the Great Recession, Bernard Madoff, on PBS's "Frontline."
Wednesday: ABC's "Lost" has its season finale. Of course, if you view, you already know that. If you don't, the opaque plot may make it impossible for casual viewing.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
"The Biggest Loser" hit it big by reflecting TV viewers' -- not TV stars' -- lives. Ratings for Tuesday's season finale should confirm its place as an evergreen reality franchise.
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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.