Hugh Laurie, House
Put a fork in the recent TV season — it officially ended on May 24, so now it's time to tally the results. For the fourth straight year, CBS was crowned the most-watched network, with an average of 12.6 million viewers per week. While the network didn't score any smash hits, new shows such as Criminal Minds
, The Unit
and Ghost Whisperer
were solid ratings performers.
Fox was able to crow as well: for the second year in a row it was No. 1 among viewers aged 18 to 49, the group most coveted by advertisers. But this year the network won the demo race without the help of the Super Bowl. Sure, American Idol helped, but so did strong performances from dramas 24, House, Prison Break and Bones, and the Sunday lineup of animated shows, which saw their audience grow over the previous year.
ABC didn't come up with a new hit, but Grey's Anatomy, Lost and Desperate Housewives remained hot, and Dancing with the Stars proved it had legs. NBC continued its free fall, landing in fourth place among viewers and in the 18-to-49 demo. Too bad we won't have Joey to kick around anymore next season.
Here are the season's biggest winners and losers:
Dysfunctional docs: Sure, the surgeons on Grey's sleep around, and House has a drug habit. But viewers are OK with bad behavior from heroes who heal. House saw its audience grow by 30 percent over its first season and held on to more of its American Idol lead-in than any previous show. Grey's went up 16 percent after its post-Super Bowl cliff-hanger.
American Idol: Instead of fading in their fifth year, Randy, Paula and Simon saw their best ratings ever — up 12 percent from the previous season. It's no longer just a TV show, it's a cultural event. "It came on at the right moment," says Fox scheduling chief Preston Beckman. "In uncertain times, it's given viewers something they can control."
The Unit: A likable star (Dennis Haysbert) hunting down terrorists was the simple formula for the highest-rated new drama of the season. "It's perfectly matched with the NCIS audience on CBS," says Steve Sternberg, ratings analyst for media-buying firm Magna Global. "It's entertaining, and you don't have to think too much."
Deal or No Deal: NBC came up with the perfect game show for the short-attention-span generation. "There's a big decision being made every two minutes," says one exec at a competing network. "Bringing in the contestants' families — that's kind of genius."
Dancing with the Stars: For the second edition, ABC used actual stars. "The casting was brilliant," says one competitor. "Rapper, football player, lady wrestler — they covered every possible portion of the spectrum."
CBS' Friday-night lineup: With Ghost Whisperer, Close to Home and Numbers, CBS has kept Friday from turning into the new Saturday. By drawing big ratings, it has encouraged the other networks to also be more aggressive on that night next season.
Sci-fi: ABC's Invasion, NBC's Surface and CBS' Threshold all proved it's tough for the genre to survive on broadcast TV. "The sci-fi audience is very loyal, but there aren't very many of them," says one network exec. "It's perfect for cable." Even Star Trek wasn't a network hit.
Sitcoms: The Office and My Name Is Earl are cool shows, but big, broad comedy hits seem extinct. Only CBS' Two and a Half Men cracked Nielsen's Top 20 for the season. Sternberg says many of today's comedies suffer when compared to Seinfeld, Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond — all of which are still very easy to find on cable and in syndication repeats.
WB and UPN: The two failed "weblets" decided to call it a day and merge. Why couldn't they survive? Maybe one network could have prospered in courting viewers aged 18 to 34, but not two. The real losers are fans of good shows such as Everwood, which didn't make the cut at CW.Commander in Chief
: President Mackenzie Allen looked as if she would have a lengthy stay in the White House when 16.4 million tuned in for her premiere. But it was downhill from there as production delays and a revolving door of executive producers doomed ABC's most anticipated show of the season.