Franchise dramas bottom out

Judging by last week’s ratings, there may be some shuffling of the programming decks in the 10 o’clock hour next season. Franchise dramas the nets have been counting on to close out nights for years are showing their age, hitting series lows.

Of course, the April calm before the May storm of finales often produces season lows as spring breaks, better weather and daylight-saving time conspire to reduce television viewing levels. But the collective decline of these anchors has been eye-opening.

And when the fall lineups are announced next month, look for some shakeups in the 10 o’clock hour, which remains vitally important as a lead-in to the late local news on net affiliates. Current timeslot leaders may feel pressure to improve their performance, while rival nets may more aggressively counterprogram.

During a week in which Fox prevailed among young adults for a 10th straight week, NBC’s “ER” and CBS’ “CSI: Miami” and “CSI: NY” hit firstrun series lows, one week after NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” did so.

“ER,” the granddaddy of them all in its 13th season, lost in adults 18-49 for the first time to CBS rookie “Shark,” while the Eye’s “CSI: NY” fell further behind ABC’s “Lost” in key demos.

“CSI: Miami” and “Law & Order: SVU” continue to win their 10 o’clock timeslots on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, but it would not be surprising to see rival nets come after them in the fall.

And it’s not just these franchise vets or specifically 10 o’clock shows that have succumbed to spring’s slumber.

ABC’s third-year pair of “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” hit firstrun lows this month, although both have since bounced back. And “CSI” remains a top 10 show opposite “Grey’s Anatomy” on Thursday, but it’s at its lowest range since shifting to Thursday in 2001.

Overall for the April 9-15 frame, according to Nielsen, Fox’s 4.0 rating/11 share in adults 18-49 was well ahead of ABC and CBS (tied with a 3.1/9), followed by NBC (2.2/6), Univision (1.7/5) and CW (1.1/3, tied for sixth with USA). Peacock matched its all-time low, set the previous week.

Fox also won by a share over CBS in adults 25-54 (4.3/11 to 4.0/10) and by 3 shares over ABC and CBS for the lead among those 12-34 (3.8/11 to 2.8/8). CBS still led in total viewers (11.29 million), averaging nearly 1 million more than Fox (10.33 million).

Fox again claimed the week’s top three spots on the program rankings with its midweek “American Idol” machine.

This time, it was “Idol’s” one-hour results show that was the week’s top program (11.1 rating/27 share in adults 18-49, 28.56 million viewers overall), followed in 18-49 by Tuesday’s performance show (10.3/29 in 18-49, 26.78m) and the drama that airs behind it that night, “House” (8.8/22, 21.57m).

Net’s new drama “Drive” didn’t rev up a lot of viewer interest in its two-hour preview seg on Sunday (2.6/6 in 18-49, 6.04m), and then similarly failed to wow when it moved to its regular Monday 8 p.m. slot (2.3/6, 5.66m).

ABC claimed seven of the week’s top 20 shows among adults 18-49, led by “Desperate Housewives” (6.4/15, 16.35m) and “Lost” (5.2/14, 12.09m), both of which remained in control of their timeslots in 18-49 and were up a few ticks vs. their recent firstrun series-low scores.

“Dancing With the Stars” remained hot, placing in the top 15 with both Monday’s perf program (4.8/13, 18.84m) and Tuesday’s results show (4.2/11, 17.32m). And “Brothers & Sisters” was looking good on Sunday (4.5/11, 11.26m), winning its hour in 18-49 and other key demos.

Net also got decent sampling Thursday for new laffer “Notes From the Underbelly” (3.6/10, 8.34m) prior to its move to Wednesday this week.

Highlights for CBS included a good return for vet laffer “King of Queens” (4.6/11, 13.41m), which paired with skedmate “Two and a Half Men” (4.55/11, 13.46m) as the week’s top comedies. And for the first time opposite all original competish, “Shark” (3.9/11, 14.49m) led its Thursday hour.

“CSI” was again the Eye’s top show overall (6.7/17, 22.18m), winning its Thursday hour opposite a “Grey’s Anatomy” recap show on ABC (5.0/13, 12.57m). But the crime drama’s spinoffs “CSI: Miami” on Monday (4.7/13, 16.11m) and “CSI: NY” on Wednesday (3.4/9, 12.64m) hit firstrun series lows.

NBC was repped in the top 20 by “The Office” (4.1/11, 7.71m), which built sharply in demos from its “My Name Is Earl” lead-in (3.0/9, 6.67m), and by Thursday’s “ER” (3.7/10, 9.24m). The medical drama was no doubt hampered by its six-week hiatus, scrubbing in with its lowest firstrun averages to date.

Peacock did OK with the two-hour Monday bow of improv comedy skein “Thank God You’re Here” (3.6/9, 8.18m), though it took a hit in its second airing kicking off this week (2.9/7, 6.76m).

Univision, which edged out NBC for fourth place on the week in adults 18-34 (1.8/6), was led as usual by “La Fea Mas Bella” and recent addition “Destilando Amor.”

The only shows doing much at CW were Wednesday’s “America’s Next Top Model” (2.8/8 in 18-49, 5.65m) and “Pussycat Dolls Present” (1.6/4, 3.38m), which combined to give the net a second-place finish to Fox on the night in 12-34 (2.6/8).

On the basic cable side, USA ran away with the week thanks to Monday stalwart “WWE Raw” (2.1/6 in 18-49, 5.32m for its two hours) and three weekend runs of “National Treasure.” In its Saturday airing (1.7/6 in 18-49, 4.36m), the 2004 adventure pic starring Nicolas Cage placed second to Fox among adults 18-49.

VH1 ruled Sunday in younger demos with its preems of “I Love New York Reunion Special” (2.3/5 in 18-49, 5.01m) and “Charm School” (2.3/6, 5.07m). “Charm,” starring Mo’Nique and featuring faves from the first two seasons of “Flavor of Love,” led the 10 o’clock hour in adults 18-34 (3.4/10).

Week’s most-watched basic cable program was Nickelodeon’s original episode of “SpongeBob” on Friday. Part of a marathon on the night, it drew a big 5.91 million viewers.

Of note in pay cable, “The Sopranos” (3.7/9 in 18-49, 7.42m) was on par with its week-earlier season preem, while lead-out laffer “Entourage” (2.3/6 in 18-49, 3.85m) was up a few ticks and tied NBC’s “The Apprentice” in 18-49.

And Showtime’s “The Tudors” averaged just 350,000 viewers for the preem of its third episode Sunday.

(All Nielsen numbers cited are “Live + same-day,” incorporating live viewing as well as DVR playback until 3 a.m. the following day. Each 18-49 ratings point reps 1.31 million viewers.)

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