Monday Nights In 2007-08: ABC Sashayed To The Top

With the 2007-08 TV season at an end, it's time for a summing up of the ratings side of things. The news was mostly bad for the broadcast networks, as the long-term ratings slide for them was only accelerated by the writers' strike. Most scripted shows saw dramatic slides for their post-strike episodes, and even proven hits like CSI were not immune.

Fox had two major pieces of programming that were not affected at all by the strike: the Super Bowl and American Idol, whose much-ballyhooed ratings decline was not nearly as dramatic as was the case for most of the competition. As a result, Fox won the season-long ratings race for the first time ever, surpassing longtime leader CBS. Fox has frequently been the ratings leader in the key demos (18-49 and 25-54) and its dominance was even more dramatic this season. CBS was still second best in overall ratings, but ABC nipped it in the 18-49 category, and CBS is just barely staying ahead of Univision among 18-34 year olds. Nothing much good happened at NBC, which introduced no new hits in 2007-08 and was stuck in fourth place all around. As for the CW, the less said the better.

This is the first in a series of posts about how each network fared during 2007-08, night by night (leaving aside Saturday, where no one really tries). We'll start with Mondays, where two of the major networks used proven strategies to stay as the night's pacesetters, while the other two had their signature Monday programming mostly or totally ruined by the WGA strike.

Simply put, Monday was owned by ABC as long as it was running new episodes of Dancing With the Stars, whose two airings a week ran ahead of everything else on television in the fall and only behind American Idol in the spring. ABC was able to use the show's lead-in to launch the sitcom Samantha Who?, which can't be termed an unqualified success (it's noticeably weaker when there isn't a DWtS airing in front of it). But given the alphabet network's terrible recent record with comedy, they will take what they can get.

But the gap between Dancing seasons is long enough (it covers the entire February sweeps period) that coming up with alternate programming for Mondays can't be termed a small problem for ABC. Its main effort in that area, the spin-off Dance War, was an embarrassment for all concerned, except perhaps for the un-embarrassable Bruno Tonioli. Neither Notes for the Underbelly nor October Road came close to justify their second seasons, and they won't get a third. As for The Bachelor, it rolls merrily along without anyone paying much attention to it these days, though the surprise ending to the fall season got people talking about the show for the first time in years.

CBS has had the same formula on Mondays for years: four sitcoms leading into CSI: Miami. The comedies aren't huge ratings-getters (save for Two and a Half Men, the highest-rated sitcom on television again this season), but they serve to bring some young eyeballs to CBS that would otherwise never tune in at all. While it should be showing signs of age by now, CSI: Miami benefits from the difficulties that the competition has had finding anything to work at 10:00 PM.

The NBC strategy for Mondays was basically destroyed by the strike, as Heroes disappeared in early December, never to return. This was particularly disappointing because the fall episodes were widely panned; even Kristen Bell couldn't save them. NBC was once again unsuccessful in finding a 10:00 PM show to pair with Heroes, as Journeyman never caught on. Chuck at 8 PM got strong reviews and has a fun premise, but whether anyone will still remember it by next fall (only two new episodes aired after January 1) is anyone's guess. Deal Or No Deal filled in between 8:00 and 10:00 and generally did OK, although signs of decay and overexposure are setting in. The one bright spot for NBC was a minor revival for Medium, which was held back till January and showed a little strength while CSI: Miami was out of commission.

Monday nights for Fox have generally featured stopgap programming in the fall and 24 in the spring, but the strike made this completely untenable, and 24 was called off for the season before all the leaves were off the trees last November. The network struggled in the fall as usual; the new K-Ville went nowhere fast and Prison Break continued to draw a small if puzzlingly devoted audience. Fox's most-hyped new series of the season, Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles, debuted in January and showed some promise, but its complicated mythology and grim tone aren't designed to be welcoming to casual viewers. Still, it will get another shot in the fall. Fox's other new spring shows, Canterbury's Law and New Amsterdam, were not so fortunate. Both Bones and House moved to Mondays when they had new episodes to run in the spring, and brought their usual audiences with them.

The CW ran four sitcoms on Mondays in the fall (Everybody Hates Chris, Aliens in America, The Game, and Girlfriends), a lineup that mostly moved intact to Sundays after the strike. The aging Girlfriends never went back into production once the strike ended, and the CW ended up shuttering its entire sitcom division. Gossip Girl was moved to Monday in the new year, but while it had a decent complement in One Tree Hill, neither show tore it up in the Nielsens. Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious mostly proved that a bad idea the first time around rarely improves in year two.