GREY'S ANATOMY (ABC)
Scheduling history: Grey's Anatomy has been one of TV's strongest shows on two different evenings, starting with one season on Sunday after Desperate Housewives. It really became established as a standalone megahit when ABC moved it to Thursday night in the fall of 2005.
See (who saw) how it all began: Grey's Anatomy is yet another of those major hits of today that didn't start out as a huge network priority. It was a midseason replacement for legal drama Boston Legal, which had spent most of the 2004-05 season to date in the 10:00 post-Desperate Housewives slot. Boston Legal's retention of the breakout hit had been far from great, so Grey's Anatomy got a whirl on 3/27/05, when it drew 16.25 million viewers and a 7.2 in the demo. Retention out of Desperate Housewives was a reasonable 67% on that evening, which looks better than the two thirds that Brothers & Sisters usually holds, since Housewives had such incredible raw numbers at the time. But while the 7.2 demo looked pretty solid, here's something fairly amazing; it remained a series low until the middle of season four, for well over two and a half calendar years. The first season finale on 5/22/05 found a whooping 9.8 in the demo.
(What we thought was) The best of times: Until the breakout performance by Undercover Boss last season, Grey's Anatomy was known as "the last show to get a long-term boost from the Super Bowl." The post-SB numbers were substantial: 37.88 million viewers and a 16.5 in the demo, easily the best in recent years until Boss got comparable ones in 2010 (38.65m, 16.2). And the long-term boost was tangible, both within season tw0 and beyond. It averaged an 8.5 in its pre-Super Bowl season 2 airings and a 10.1 in those after that airing, an increase of nearly 20%, and it went from a really good retainer of the Housewives audience to something that built on the show by noticeable amounts. Then came the somewhat risky move from the Housewives lead-in on Sundays to Thursdays, a historically troublesome night for ABC. But it was another really good two seasons, in fact the second and third-strongest average seasons overall in a regular timeslot. The best run was in season three during February 2007, when it posted four straight results with double digit demos, including an 11.6 on 2/22/07 which was the series' highest-rated telecast outside of the Super Bowl until 2013.
(What we found out was) The best of times: America was shaken on 9/26/13 when Grey's Anatomy premiered its tenth and final season with numbers that outshined every other non-Super Bowl telecast the series has ever aired (29.72m, 12.7), and topped even the crazy Two and a Half Men numbers from 2011 (28.74m, 10.7). Week 2 saw a hefty 14% increase, and every telecast after that for the rest of the early season would see a substantial increase, until the drama topped off its fall run with numbers up triple digits year-to-year (43.18m, 19.3 on 11/14/13 vs. 8.17m, 2.9 on 12/13/12). Then came the beginning of midseason, where Grey's Anatomy returned to a monster 24.9, an increase of nearly 30% over its fall finale. After this huge outing, ABC decided to put the show on a risky 2-week hiatus to allow new viewers to catch up (it should be noted that a rerun during the hiatus pulled a ridiculous 10.9), and the alphabet network's strategy was proven successful; Grey's Anatomy returned on 1/30/14 with the biggest television numbers in the last four decades (116.14m, 51.2). Now all bets were off. ABC wanted to see their star's full potential, so they famously payed NFL $600m at the last minute to gain the rights to air the Super Bowl and move it to Thursday, where it would serve as a lead-in to Grey's Anatomy. On 2/6/14, the Super Bowl managed to pull event-high numbers, but was TOPPED by its lead-out; Grey's Anatomy, which reached out to 320.63m viewers and notched an unfathomable 85.4 in the demo that night, was the most viewed, highest rated telecast in television history. For its next episode, it lost 30m viewers, but held onto that massive demo number, something no one expected. Week after week, Grey's Anatomy slowly climbed up the 90's metric for the rest of the spring. 5/21/14 marked the night that changed the country, the night that had every person in the United States glued to ABC for 2 hours. That's right, Grey's Anatomy wrapped up its phenomenal run with 350.0m viewers and a 100.0 in the demo.
The worst of times: After its initial peak in the 2006-07 season, Grey's Anatomy started to plummet downwards. Seasons 4-9 each saw double digit yearly decreases, with the worst fall occuring in the 2007-08 season, where the drama lost 23% of its initial peak audience. The lowest rated season the series recorded was the ninth, where it landed a 3.1 average, down 67% from its initial peak seasons. Grey's Anatomy had a series low of 2.6, received on 3/14/13, barely 20% of the drama's regulary scheduled, non-season 10 high.
Then vs. now: Grey's Anatomy was a megahit on two different occasions. First, let's talk about the initial occasion from 2004-08. Grey's Anatomy was like American Idol in that despite massive drops, it still managed to top everything on television. During the 2006-07 season, the drama was the #1 scripted show on television by a landslide, topping everything else by double digits. Then, in the 2007-08 season, it dropped a troubling 23%, but STILL was the #1 scripted show on television, and maintained that title during the 2008-09 season, despite ANOTHER 20% drop-off. By the time Grey's Anatomy reached its lowest rated season, it was no longer the leader of scripted shows, but it still managed to place comfortably among the top ten, despite having dropped 67% from its peak seasons. That just goes to show how far ahead of the pack Grey's Anatomy sat during its initial prime.
Now, let's move onto its second reign of terror: the 2013-14 season. What's amazing about Grey's Anatomy's final season, in addition to the monster ratings, is that it completely rejuvenated Thursday nights. Not only did the drama give a boost to the shows leading in and out of it, but it also unexplainably boosted every other show on Thursday, and eventually, broadcast television in general. No other night of the week saw the kinds of heights experienced on Thursdays, and that happened presumably due to Grey's Anatomy.
Adults 18-49 info by season: