Ghost Town: The Vanishing 10 pm Broadcast Drama

2011-12 season ends with grim tidings for time slot

The 10 o’clock broadcast drama tottered further down the road to oblivion this season, as not a single series in the time slot finished among Nielsen’s highest-rated programs.

Per 33 weeks of live-plus-seven-day ratings, plus two-and-a-half weeks of live-plus-same-day ratings, nary a 10 p.m. drama is to be found among TV’s top 40 series. The first to make an appearance on the list is CBS’ Monday night procedural, Hawaii Five-0, which in its second season averaged a 3.3 rating in the adult 18-49 demo.

Hawaii Five-0 tied the CBS comedy Rules of Engagement for 41st place in the demo.

Joining Hawaii Five-0 at the tail end of the top 50 are: CBS’ CSI (3.2), NBC’s Smash (3.2), CBS’ The Mentalist (3.1), and two ABC dramas—Private Practice (3.0) and Revenge (2.9).

Two of the aforementioned series (Smash, Revenge) are freshman efforts. All told, 11 new 10 p.m. dramas were introduced during the 2011-12 broadcast season; along with Smash and Revenge, only ABC’s Scandal has been renewed for a return engagement.

Through seven episodes, Scandal is averaging a 2.5 in the demo, making it No. 73 on the list of top-rated programs.

The eight 10 p.m. dramas that didn’t make the cut are NBC’s The Playboy Club, Prime Suspect, The Firm and Awake; ABC’s Pan Am and GCB; and CBS’s Unforgettable and NYC 22

It’s worth noting that a number of 10 p.m. series are among the most watched. For example, The Mentalist averaged 14.6 million viewers in this, its fourth season on CBS. And while that was good enough to take the No. 11 slot among total viewers, the show’s performance among the all-important 18-49 demo relegated it to 45th place. (The median age of The Mentalist’s audience is 59 years old.)

In fact, most of the 10 p.m. dramas are a little long in the tooth. Hawaii Five-0’s median age is 55, CSI is 57 and Revenge is 52. Private Practice is 51, up from 48 in its inaugural season, while Smash’s median age is 50.

The oldest series in the hour is CBS’ Friday night cop show, Blue Bloods, which serves a median age of 62 years. In fact, Blue Bloods is so gray it has the distinction of having the biggest disparity between its total deliveries and its performance in the 18-49 demo. With an average draw of 12.2 million viewers, the Tom Selleck vehicle is the No. 22 most-watched series on the tube. Meanwhile, its 2.0 rating among the 18-49 set puts it 97th in the demo.

The last time a 10 p.m. drama finished among broadcast’s top 10 was during the 2006-07 campaign, when Season 3 of Lost averaged a 5.8 rating on ABC. Things were markedly different at the turn of the century. At the end of the 1999-2000 campaign, NBC’s ER claimed the No. 1 spot on all of television, averaging a gaudy 12.0 in the dollar demo.

While late drama fizzled, competition series and comedy thrived. Fox’s American Idol eked a win over NBC’s The Voice, averaging a 6.2 in the 18-49 demo to the upstart’s 6.1. When their respective results shows are factored into the equation, Idol finished with a 5.8 rating, while The Voice drew a 5.1.

Also drawing big numbers was Fox’s The X Factor, which averaged a 4.4 in the demo on Wednesday nights. (With the results show deliveries, Simon Cowell’s new effort averaged a 4.3 rating.) Meanwhile, with an average delivery of 18.2 million viewers in its 13th and 14th cycles, ABC’s Dancing With the Stars was one of the season’s most-watched series—a reach that wasn’t matched by its ratings in the demo. Another rapidly aging show, DWTS’ median age is 60, up 13 percent from 53 years in its premiere cycle (2005).

Comedy accounted for the lion’s share of broadcast’s top-rated series, led by the likes of ABC’s Modern Family (5.5); CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (5.5), Two and a Half Men (5.1) and 2 Broke Girls (4.4); and Fox’s New Girl (4.2). Along with ABC’s 8 p.m. Sunday newcomer Once Upon a Time (4.1), 2BG and New Girl were the breakout success stories of the 2011-12 season.

Beating out all comers in reach and demo deliveries was NBC’s Sunday Night Football. The NFL’s prime-time showcase averaged a whopping 20.7 million total viewers and an 8.0 in the demo.

All told, Fox secured its eighth consecutive full-season victory in the demo, averaging a 3.2 rating among adults 18-49, marking a 9 percent decline from a 3.5 in 2010-11. CBS took second place with a 3.0 (up 3 percent), NBC rode the Super Bowl to a bronze medal finish (2.5, up 9 percent) and ABC was down 4 percent to a 2.4 rating.

Strip out the Super Bowl and NBC would have finished with a 1.9 in the demo.

Of the Big Five English-language broadcast nets, only NBC aged down. With a median age of 56 (up from 55 a year ago), CBS remains the grayest network. ABC’s median age went up a tick to 52, NBC dropped to 49 from 50 years, Fox finished at 46 (up from 45) and The CW aged two years to 35. 

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