Fall 2009 Television Review

** I noticed the charts look a little blurry. I’ll fix them tomorrow because it’s getting late.

The best show so far this season has been NCIS. It’s the only show with over 20 million viewers. Everything else is far behind. There doesn’t appear to be any shows that have a chance at coming close either. TV seems to be in a creative bind. Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have been much of an issue for the networks. The internet and other sources of media were not pouplar sources of entertainment. If a show didn’t have over 20 million viewers, it was not successful. Cable has fragmented the market and PVRs and downloading TV off the internet (both legally and illegally) has cut into the ratings. Here’s a list of the ratings in viewers for all the TV shows this season and further down is a breakdown of each day.

 Chart 1

The Jay Leno Experiment

Before we get to the daily charts, there is one variable in this whole mess that has changed the face of network television. While the jury is still out on whether it has been a good thing or not, people are still talking about Jay Leno. When Leno moved from the The Tonight Show at 11:30 PM to weeknights at 10 PM, it was met with a sense of anticipation. There is still that sense of anticipation but not for the same reasons. Before it was launched, many were wondering what would happen. If it was successful, would it entice NBC and the other networks to move away from scripted television (something reality TV was supposed to do ten years ago and never happened)? And if that happened, how would the various creative unions like the Writers’ Guild react to a cheap, unscripted (for the most part) show replacing five hours of scripted television each week.

Many organizations that rely heavily on scripted shows are still upset with the show even though the ratings have been horrible. Even though the first show had over eighteen million viewers, the show fell hard since then. It has hit a low as far down as less than four million viewers. Publicly, NBC still appears happy with the show and many analysts believe that remains the case privately as well. Some have even speculated that the show could fall even further (like dropping another half of its average audience of 5.74 million) and still be a profitable venture for NBC. The creative industry may not be happy to hear that. As ratings continue to fall industry wide and advertisers are balking at paying the high rates that the networks are used to, it wouldn’t be surprising that in a few years time if the other networks copy NBC’s formula. When it comes down to it, even if a show is pulling in fifteen million viewers, if it’s not making money then it’s getting cancelled. Apparently, Leno is making NBC quite a bit of money and there have to be some network executives thinking about Leno’s impressive profit margins.



Sunday wasn’t the big gest night of the week but it saw the most shows that improved over last year. Fox saw big gains with The Simpsons and Family Guy seeing double-digit percent increases. The only problem is that those gains were offset by American Dad’s falling ratings and the less than great debut of The Cleveland Show. Three Seth McFarlane animated-comedies may be too much for the network at one time. Sunday has become very competitive as Three Rivers is the best performing show to be cancelled so far this season. The other CBS show to be in trouble is Cold Case as they tried to increase the ratings of both Cold Case and Three Rivers by switching their timeslots in an attempt to jump start their numbers (it didn’t and one show got canned). ABC is feeling the heat with both their scripted dramas taking a dive in the ratings. Their cheapest show is their healthiest with modest gains over last season. The only network without any problems is NBC who experienced great ratings with Sunday Night Football. The test for them is to see how well they’ll do in the winter with the football season over.



It’s  no surprise that most of the shows are down since most of TV is down. However, there are some surprises. House is up but that’s probably because the quality of the show is better than it has been the last couple of seasons. The Big Bang Theory has improved dramatically over their 2008-09 numbers but it’s not because the show underwent fundamental changes. Last season, the show was on at 8 PM instead of 9:30. It switched to the cozy spot between Two and a Half Men and CSI: Miami halfway through last season. The show has been riding high ever since. Accidentally on Purpose would be doing well if it were on another network or on another day and time but since it is supposed to have a higher viewership than it should, it could be trouble. The only other new show this year is Trauma and right now nothing on NBC is doing well (Heroes is in serious trouble with a third of the viewership gone). Dancing With the Stars is slipping and has been falling for the last couple of seasons. That’s par for the course with reality shows since after a couple of seasons people tend to lose interest. Unless it’s an established CBS comedy or House, it’ll be interesting to see if any of these shows make it back next year.



Tuesday is a funny day because unless it’s a reality show or NCIS, every show on this day was new for this season (90210 doesn’t count because nobody cares about it…look at the numbers). NCIS benefitted greatly from this shake up as it’s the only show this season with a viewership of over 20 million people. The L.A. spinoff is the second most popular show on television despite lukewarm reviews. The other CBS show, The Good Wife, is winning its timeslot with a viewership almost larger than the other two network shows combined. V started off strong but has fallen since its premiere so its future isn’t as strong as it looks. The Biggest Loser is one of the few NBC shows not to have fallen in the ratings and has been experiencing ratings increases for the last couple of seasons. So You Think You Can Dance may seem like it has fallen drastically but last season was broadcast during the summer which would mean that more people would have tuned in because of the lack of new content on broadcast television during the summer. Melrose Place? See 90210.



Wednesday is a mixed bag. ABC overhauled its lineup completely and, for the most part, it was a bust with two shows being cancelled before Christmas and two on the fence (the lone exception being Modern Family which is second in its timeslot). CBS didn’t have any new shows which may not have been a good thing since only two shows maintained their audience while two shows have seen their popularity fall. Fox’s Glee doesn’t look like it’s pulling in huge numbers but the show is making huge buckets of money for the network. Not only does the show have a strong following that has increased greatly after an initial rocky start, but the soundtrack is making more money than many acts in the music industry. Television musicals don’t exactly have a lot of staying power so it’ll be interesting to see how long the ride lasts. The ride might not last all that longer for the Law & Order franchise although SVU’s troubles can be attributed to the fact that the show moved timeslots from the previous season. Although, SVU is still one of the stronger shows on NBC’s lineup, at least their lineup isn’t as weak as the CW’s. America’s Next Top Model is down considerably from last season and The Beautiful Life had the honour of being the first show cancelled this season.



Thursday used to be the biggest day in television (now it’s Tuesday). There are only two networks that saw growth this season. The CW saw great success with The Vampire Diaries capitalizing on the vampire fad of the moment (which will make things interesting when vampires become passé). While FlashForward might be on the fence for next year, ABC was the only network that had a show that increased its ratings from the year before with Private Practice. The main reason for this increase is CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its sharp decline. The Mentalist has lost its strong lead-in audience and therefore lost viewers to Private Practice (because they sure weren’t flocking to Leno). Fox and NBC saw large drop-offs from last year. Television networks may be crying foul that advertisers are no longer willing to pay high rates for ad spots and using the economy as a scapegoat. However, Thursday is a prime example at showing that the real reason why advertisers are staying away is that less people are watching television. For Thursday’s sake, they need to bring back Grissom.



Friday seems to be the day where networks send their shows to die. Every show is down across the board. Brothers was the only new weekly show on Fridays and it has already been cancelled. Fox also cancelled Dollhouse and don’t be surprised if ‘Til Death gets the axe before the summer break. Smallville is CW’s only Friday show and that’s only because they moved it from Thursday. One could argue that all the shows on Friday could be on the chopping block but since Friday isn’t normally a major television viewing night, any show with over five million viewers is probably safe (depending on the costs). Even though the ratings are down for Medium, CBS is somewhat happy with the results with the money they’re saving with the show. The CBS production division makes the show which was a major reason why the network poached the show from NBC.


The only network that runs original content almost every week is Fox (although ABC does show NCAA football to strong ratings). Cops runs at 8 PM at gets around 4.76 million viewers a week. Those numbers are down ten percent compared to last year but Cops is a show that can see viewership spikes of over twenty-five percent from week-over-week so the drop could easily disappear by the end of the season. Same goes for America’s Most Wanted which also saw the ratings bounce up and down like a yo-yo. Fox’s 9 PM show had an average viewership of 5.18 million people so far this season; down 5.8 percent. CBS and NBC usually run reruns although CBS does show 48 Hours Mystery in the 10 PM slot.


This section needs to be started off with the disclaimer that I don’t have full access to the Canadian ratings. I can look at the BBM ratings list for the top 30 shows of the week but that’s about it. Regardless, since there are very few Canadian productions, it’s not too big a deal other than I can’t give solid numbers (even though the American numbers may be off by a few hundred thousand because of discrepancies between the numbers I gathered and the actual numbers).

The top Canadian show is Dragons’ Den. Its last show before the winter break had 1.6 million viewers. Originally, it started off slow with around one million viewers at the beginning of the season. It had reached a peak of two million viewers in November. It has more viewers on a weekly basis than hockey on the CBC. It’s still a long way away from taking the top spot from the American shows dominating the Canadian charts but has the strongest future of any Canadian production outside of Hockey Night in Canada.

Flashpoint also had about 1.6 million viewers. The CTV production didn’t have an episode that peaked as high as Dragons’ Den but it’s still plenty impressive for a Canadian scripted production to do so well. It will most likely stay on the tube for a few more seasons as both CTV and CBS seem happy with the numbers. Flashpoint is the only Canadian production currently on air in U.S. primetime (the current season will air in the U.S. starting this winter).

There were a few other shows that popped up on the top 30 charts. Battle of the Blades saw great numbers for the CBC. So You Think You Can Dance Canada also saw good ratings for the CTV. So there’s been no drought of dance shows for Canadians. The rest of the popular Canadian television shows come from the CBC. Heartland has done very well which is the only other Canadian scripted show to make the list. The Rick Mercer Report is the only other weekly top 30 show although it makes the list quite infrequently. CTV newscasts make the list on a regular basis. The rest of the top 30 lists are dominated by American productions.


Disclaimer: Some numbers were easier to compile than others. I did my best to take numbers released in press releases and add them all up. Other numbers I acquired from various sources like TV By The Numbers.com. There may be some discrepancies between my numbers and numbers recorded from sources like Nielsen Media. If you need to get any information concerning ratings, I highly suggest you seek out Nielsen Media or the BBM for ratings information in the United States or Canada. Also, I have chosen not to feature the ratings for news shows in this report. I wanted to concentrate solely on scripted and reality shows for this report.


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