MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The first night of May sweeps brought new episodes of big shows. But it didn't bring enough viewers, as every Thursday prime-time program under-delivered its original-episode season average in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic.
It was a tight race between ABC (3.2/9 rating and share) and CBS (3.1/9) for first place, and an equally close competition between NBC (2.7/8) and Fox (2.6/7) for third. The CW finished fifth with an overall 1.2/3 (all based on Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings; final live-plus-same-day data will be released this afternoon).
After three uncompetitive weeks of repeats, ABC was revived with the miracle cure of original episodes of medical dramas "Grey's Anatomy" (4.9/13) and "Private Practice" (3.4/10), which both won their hours. But both hit original-episode season lows in their time slots, as "Grey's" slumped 17% and "Private Practice" was off 13%. And showing how poorly these serialized series repeat, an 8 p.m. "Grey's" rerun (1.5/5) was 12% lower than the recent average for lower-rated sitcoms "In the Motherhood" and "Samantha Who?"
Second-place CBS also battled audience attrition, as "Survivor" (3.5/11) and "CSI" (3.6/9) sunk 17% and 28%, respectively, to original-episode season lows. So did new murder mystery "Harper's Island," as every week it has lost viewers, just as the show loses characters. Last night's third episode was off 17% to a 2.0/6.
The loss was an even steeper 20% for NBC's "Southland" (2.5/7), which, like "Harper's," had to operate against an original "Private Practice" for the first time.
But based on buzz -- and relatively solid ratings, particularly in the context of NBC's challenges -- it's still likely "Southland" will see a November sweeps next fall. It's too early to draw the same conclusion for NBC's other new Thursday series, the Amy Poehler sitcom "Parks and Recreation." The bad news is it, too, hit a series low and was down 18% from its average. But the 2.3/7 was still higher than more-established lead-in "My Name Is Earl" (2.2/7). Sitcoms "The Office" (3.7/10) and "30 Rock" (3.1/8) were also down, with "The Office" off 16% to an original-episode season low and "30 Rock" dropping a more modest 9%.
Even on Fox -- which will likely win the May sweeps as it crowns the next "American Idol" -- there were ratings reductions of 21% for "Bones" (2.2/7) and "Hell's Kitchen" (3.0/8), which cooled to a season low as well.
As for the CW, its relatively younger desired demo was also less loyal to TV, as perhaps late April sunshine overrode May sweeps. As with the rest of network TV, May sweeps may have ended reruns but not the repeating pattern of demo under-delivery, as "Smallville" (1.3/4) and "Supernatural" (1.1/3) tumbled 24% and 22%, respectively.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: Even sweeps can't tidy up the mess that defines most Friday-night network TV. So maybe it's time to catch up with the overlooked and underrated "Everybody Hates Chris" on the CW.
Saturday: Got kids? "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" runs on ABC. Empty nester? "Streisand: Live in Concert" runs on CBS.
Sunday: May sweeps leading into season finales is when melodramas such as ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Brothers & Sisters" really get good.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: At least a slight Sunday surge, as all but one show on the Big Four networks is an original episode.
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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.