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Ratings Five-Spot - Ratings Carnage, Smash, Cougar Town, A Gifted Man, Reality Premieres

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Here's the Ratings Five-Spot for the week ending February 19, 2011:

  • Ratings Carnage - As many close ratings followers have observed, last week was a weirdly brutal period for TV ratings. A lot of shows took double-digit drops for no apparent reason. I took all of the broadcast week-to-week movements from the entire week and lined them up in order. What I found was through five days of last week, the median drop was a whooping 8.0%, which was the biggest since the first two weeks of the season (when lots of shows are dropping from their premieres). That number will probably be a bit closer to even once the Sunday finals are in, since many shows had post-Grammy rallies, but it'll still be quite abnormal.
    There's been a lot of scrambling to come up with reasons. I did my own post last week on one theory that seemed to be gaining some traction (heavy DVR usage following a historically huge Grammys). We'll probably never know exactly what happened, and some of Monday's most suspicious droppers (the CBS comedies) rallied a bit this week. One point that I've been trying to make is that a very similar thing happened in the same week last year.  The median week-to-week drop for the week ending February 20, 2011 was 5.7%, which was the biggest median week-to-week drop of any week of that regular season aside from the first two weeks.  (For reference, about half of all weeks have a median week-to-week trend of ±0%, and most other weeks are within ±3%. So a -6% or -8% week is a relative oddity, and it probably wouldn't happen at the same exact time in two straight years without some external reason.)
    My point is that, for whatever reason, this mid-February downturn has some historical precedent. That's why I tend to think it probably isn't some kind of glitch on Nielsen's part. There's something about this specific week of the year that drags ratings down. Any better ideas out there?
  • Smash - Last week, with just one number in for Smash, I noted that things looked OK but far from great. Having seen more data points, things are getting even uglier. Smash dropped 26% from its 3.8 premiere to a 2.8 demo in week two last week, and this Monday's preliminary result was a 2.3 demo, down another 18%. This has come while its lead-in, reality mega-hit The Voice, has held up pretty well from its own Super Bowl bounce; it premiered to a 6.7 when Smash got that 3.8 but still managed at least a 5.8 demo this week. A 2.3 demo with a 5.8 lead-in is certainly reason for concern, but this is ratings-starved NBC, and Smash has support at the top. The ratings are ultimately not gonna look pretty for this series, but the question is just how much leeway NBC will give.
  • Cougar Town - ABC brought back Cougar Town for season three last week, though not exactly in the best of situations. It was sandwiched between incompatible comedy Last Man Standing and horror drama The River, and it was also on viewing-depressed Valentine's Day. That said, the start for Cougar Town was not too encouraging, as it managed just 4.88 million viewers and a 1.8 demo. It dropped by 18% from its lead-in and also came in behind any of the results from its first couple seasons on Wednesday. And it premiered behind previous failed occupants of the timeslot like Man Up! (2.4) and Work It (2.0). But the question is really whether the show can settle at a level higher than the mid-1 ranges where those two shows did. Since it's a returning show, that seems possible.
  • A Gifted Man - CBS' new drama A Gifted Man has been quietly posting underwhelming results on Friday at 8/7c all season, but last Friday saw a big shake-up. CBS brought in their strong reality property Undercover Boss at 8/7c while giving A Gifted Man a try at 9:00. Undercover Boss did amazing business; its 2.4 demo made it pretty comfortably the biggest show on the whole night, and it was nearly double A Gifted Man's average in the same timeslot. At 9:00,  A Gifted Man got a bit of a bounce, hitting a 1.5 demo, but that's not really that impressive considering its huge lead-in plus higher overall viewing at 9:00. The uptick is nice, but I'd say in sum it was not a good day for the show. And that's assuming it had any real chance at renewal to begin with.
  • Reality Premieres - Three of TV's iconic reality franchises also came back on the scene this week. It's been a pretty rough year for the "serialized" reality shows, but most of these shows weren't down that much. Survivor (3.1) was down just a tenth from the spring 2011 premiere. And The Celebrity Apprentice (2.6 demo) was down by two tenths. Haven't seen final numbers on Sunday's The Amazing Race yet, but it looks to be more or less even with last year's number (2.5 demo) as well. Combine those with the huge success of The Voice and it looks like unscripted TV is having a bit of a rebound from a generally weak fall.
For more in-depth TV ratings coverage every day, check out my blog at or follow me on Twitter: @spotupj.

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