ER’s Missing Audience

According to, CBS made a significant, symbolic victory last night:

In a much vaunted head-to-head match-up the third season premiere of “Without a Trace” trounced the eleventh season premiere of “ER.” For the first time in the show’s long and esteemed history, an original episode of “ER” lost to another drama in total viewers.

To be fair, though, ER is in its 11th season and has all but one member of its original cast. It’s not surprising that the show is losing some of its ratings power. That said, ER is still one of the highest rated dramas on television… and that it still draws those numbers after so many years and so many cast changes is amazing.

WITHOUT A TRACE is a good show…but you can’t discount the benefits of having CSI, the highest rated drama on television, as your lead in. Think how many comedies survived simply by following FRIENDS, SEINFELD or RAYMOND…and then died when moved elsewhere.

The victory is an important one image-wise for CBS… which for years was considered the nursing home network. CBS has clearly and decisively won its long battle to re-establish itself as the Tiffany network.

3 thoughts on “ER’s Missing Audience”

  1. I think this is more than a symbolic victory for CBS — it’s the death knell for NBC’s decades of dominance. The fact is, NBC has been riding on a number of aging hits for a long time now, and with the exception of additional Law and Order franchises, they’ve been pretty much unable to come up with new headliners.
    What few successes they have aired in the past couple of years have definitely been B-level at best — Fear Factor and Las Vegas are the kinds of junky filler a network pads around the definining hits. (And thank God, Fear Factor is finally waning.) But this year, NBC acted as if the old hits were invulnerable, and their new shows seem to be nothing but more of those fluff pieces.
    So what’s happening now? LAX premiered impressively, but plunged in week 2. Joey had a decent premiere and has declined every week. Hawaii had a mediocre start opposite reruns and has declined every week. Medical Investigations seems to be trending down. Only Father of the Pride seems to be holding on to much of its initial ratings, and that’s nothing more than According to Jim gets opposite — and Scrubs, a show that seems to have recovered creatively after struggling last year, now proves that it will never be a mass hit, dropping substantially from the animated lions. (And by the way, what’s with the lions? Siegfried and Roy breed tigers!)
    So the new shows are doing nothing… and suddenly, the old ones are showing their age. CBS is kicking the crap out of Law and Order and ER. I predict a bloodbath when The West Wing limps back on.
    And even if Lost goes the way of Battlestar Galactica, it’s proven that a network drama can attract huge numbers of viewers and national buzz. Nothing on NBC has that. Even The Apprentice, last year’s ultimate watercooler show, has cooled substantially. And is there anyone out there who really believes that America is pining for a reality show about boxing — especially after the disaster of the Fox version?
    So where will this leave NBC at the end of the season? My guess is in real trouble. They’ll have a bunch of expensive old shows that aren’t doing nearly what they used to, but which they have to renew because they’ve got nothing else. And they won’t have any returning freshman dramas.
    I have to say, I don’t understand Kevin Reilly’s development strategy for this season. It’s as if he decided the network had enough “quality” shows, so he was going to develop the sort of 1970s ABC stuff — junk like The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Charlie’s Angels — that would never win awards, but would bring in huge ratings. But all that ’70s stuff was kind of new at the time, and LAX and Hawaii don’t feel new, they feel like recycled ’70s stuff.
    I think Reilly is smart enough to turn this around. He certainly brought a brand identity to F/X. But I also think he’s going to need a completely new strategy to pull it off.
    And hey, Kevin, if you’re reading this, you know I mean it all with love…

  2. Wow, how do I get such high powered readers on my blog. 🙂
    Seriously, I love WITHOUT A TRACE. I was afraid to get too into it since I thought it might die opposite ER it’s first year. But now I’m not worried about that. In fact, I’m thrilled to see the dominance of ER fading. I’ve felt it was an overhyped show and was ready for it to start to fall.
    I could be wrong, but I think WAT would have an audience in a different time slot. But maybe it really is just following CSI that works. I do think they make a great pair.


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