The Thursday Night Mystery: So Much TV, Yet Fewer Viewers?

'Grey's Anatomy' recently delivered its lowest-rated fall original ever, symptomatic of all-around declines for Thursday shows (ABC)

'Grey's Anatomy' recently delivered its lowest-rated fall original ever, symptomatic of all-around declines for Thursday shows (ABC)

Remember when Thursday night was the one night of the week when you just had to watch TV?

NBC even came up with a catchy name for it – “Must-See TV.” But nowadays, the numbers suggest that fewer of us feel we “must” watch TV on this once-vaunted evening.

And mind you, many “complain” that Thursday night now offers too many viewing options, even just across the major networks. So if there is so much to see, where is everybody?

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The Wall Street Journal looked at the ratings for the first four Thursday nights of the new TV season and found that overall viewership is down – on both the broadcast and cable networks.

The fall-off is more dramatic in the key demographic of men and women ages 18-49, the demo sought most notably by NBC for its Thursday-night comedy lineup (‘Community,’ ’30 Rock,’ ‘The Office’ and the new one, ‘Outsourced’). According to the WSJ’s analysis, an average of 48.5 million people in that coveted demo watched TV on those first four Thursdays – down 2.2. million, or 4.3 percent, from the same period a year ago. Overall viewership (that is,, all viewers age 2 and older) decreased 1 percent, WSJ reported.

What’s the significance? That depends on whether the trend continues. The Journal points to a couple of factors drawing audiences away from the big networks on Thursday nights – ‘Jersey Shore’ on MTV, ‘Project Runway’ on Lifetime and, for the last few weeks, baseball playoffs on TBS.

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Our own take on the Thursday situation is that the ratings have certainly been lopsided this season. Last Thursday, for example, CBS won handily with an average of 13.8 million viewers per hour for its lineup of ‘Big Bang Theory,’ ‘$#*! My Dad Says,’ ‘CSI’ and ‘The Mentalist.’ NBC, by contrast, averaged 4.8 million with a lineup that concludes with the sparsely sampled ‘The Apprentice.’

ABC landed somewhere in the lower middle with 7.7 million, heavily hampered by the recent replacement of ‘My Generation’ with ‘Grey’s Anatomy‘ repeats. The high point for ABC continues to be the fresh doses of ‘Grey’s’ at 9/8c, though at last tally the medical drama had hit a series-low rating for an original fall episode.

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Once upon a time, NBC owned Thursdays with the likes of ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘Friends’ and ‘ER.’ That made Thursday a “must-buy” for movie studios purchasing commercial time to hype the coming weekend’s new releases.

But those days are long gone. And though many of us love NBC’s comedy lineup, the shows don’t really get ratings commensurate with their quality. They don’t even win the 18-49 demo race. Believe it or not, the CBS shows – which generally skew older overall – even beat the NBC comedies in that demo this past Thursday.

So how about it? Is Thursday still a must-see evening of TV for you? Or are you finding other things to do that evening?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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