As I was writing the overnight ratings story this morning, I didn’t even blink at the results for the 8 p.m. hour: Survivor first, Bones a decent second, Ugly Betty and the NBC comedies doing nothing special.
It was, in short, a snooze — which in itself kind of remarkable. As recently as a couple seasons back, 8 o’clock Thursday was one of the most hotly contested hours on television. The idea of FOX moving one of its stronger shows to the hour, as the network did with Bones in January, would have set off a flurry of stories about whether it could survive the cutthroat environment of the night.
Well, Bones is pulling just about the same ratings on Thursday as it did on Wednesdays earlier in the season, which is partly a reflection of how loyal the show’s audience is. But it also points up the fact that Thursday nights are no longer nearly the battlefield they once were.
The night is still home to two of the top scripted shows on TV in CSI and Grey’s Anatomy, which wage their weekly battle at 9 p.m. (CSI typically draws a bigger overall audience while Grey’s does better in the 18-49 demographic that advertisers love). But at 8? Nothing.
Yes, the overnight ratings for network TV are down across the board — a function of more people having DVRs and more people watching cable or just doing other things. But even taking all that under consideration, the way in which 8 p.m. Thursdays have ceased to be competitive is kind of remarkable.
Two years ago this week, Survivor: Fiji won the 8 p.m. Thursday timeslot with a little over 16 million viewers. Ugly Betty, in its first season on ABC, brought in better than 13.6 million people, and both shows ranked in the top 20 for that week in adults 18-49. NBC’s combination of My Name Is Earl and The Office didn’t do quite as well in viewers (they averaged a little under 9 million) but were still competitive in the demo; The Office finished 22nd among adults 18-49 that week.
Last night, Survivor: Tocantins led the hour with 13.7 million viewers. Bones was its closest competitor at 9.5 million, and Survivor was the only show to break the 3.0 barrier in adults 18-49, finishing with a 4.5.
One way to look at things, I suppose, is that Survivor has simply worn down its competition. From the time Friends left the air in 2004, the CBS reality franchise has ruled the timeslot. The second cycle of Dancing with the Stars (January-February 2006) and season one of of Ugly Betty both performed well for ABC, but neither has turned out to be a long-term threat (ABC moved Dancing to a different night the following fall, and Betty has seen its ratings taper off since the heights of the first season).
The heaviest competition now comes on Mondays, where ABC’s reality lineup, CBS’ comedies and FOX and NBC dramas make for a DVR nightmare. Wednesdays at 9 will also become hypercompetitive next month when the American Idol results show moves in against Criminal Minds and Lost.
But the days of 8 p.m. Thursday being one of the biggest ratings battlegrounds on TV, at least for now, are pretty much over.