30 Rock is a fan’s favorite example of a low rated show that seemed destined for the chopping block but ended up renewed a couple times and then saw a ratings surge. And since it’s on NBC, fans of shows like Chuck and Life might see this as a beacon of hope. But, I’m sorry to tell you that you’d be mistaken.
First of all, 30 Rock’s saving grace has always been the households with incomes over $100k. Take a look at the top 10 shows on the index for its first two seasons:
|Adults 18-49 w/$100k+ income|
|1. The Office||NBC||143|
|3. 30 Rock||NBC||133|
|3. 60 Minutes||CBS||133|
|5. Studio 60/Sunset Strip||NBC||132|
|5. Boston Legal||abc||132|
|8. The Apprentice||NBC||131|
|10. Andy Barker, P.I.||NBC||127|
|10. Saturday Night Football||abc||127|
|Adults 18-49 w/$100k+ income|
|1. The Office||NBC||150|
|3. Lipstick Jungle||NBC||141|
|4. 30 Rock||NBC||140|
|5. Friday Night Lights||NBC||135|
|6. 60 Minutes||CBS||134|
|8. The Apprentice||NBC||130|
|8. Grey's Anatomy||abc||130|
|10. Old Christine||CBS||129|
|10. Dirty Sexy Money||abc||129|
As you can see, 30 Rock was 3rd and 4th for its first two seasons respectively. Chuck and Life are not on the list in their first season. But this should not to give hope to any Lipstick Jungle fans, because 30 Rock had another important saving grace: Improvement.
30 Rock went from an average of 2.7 to 3.1 between its first and second seasons. Chuck and Life, on the other hand, have gone from 3.5 and 3.0 to 2.4 and 1.7, respectively.
So despite claims that critical acclaim (and awards) alone saved 30 Rock, and can save your favorite show, it’s just not the case. In the words of the great Jack Donaghy, you need that third heat. (Or, in this case, that second and third heat.)
But there is something else to be said about 30 Rock. The idea that a show can turn from a ratings loser to a success is not at all demonstrated by 30 Rock. This season’s ratings are seen as a huge improvement on last season, but it’s just not so. The current 18-49 demo average is 3.2, only up one tenth from last season. I hope we see this rise and end up with a more significant increase over last season, but for now the improvement just isn’t that noteworthy. So why is 30 Rock deemed a success this season, but last season it was still struggling? Three letters: NBC. Last season 30 Rock was at 1.04 on the Renew/Cancel index, just above where Chuck is currently. This season it is currently at 1.34. NBC is down 13.6% in the 18-49 demo, so even 30 Rock’s paltry 3.2% increase gives the appearance of success.
(Note: As was pointed out in the comments by Mark, it appears The Hollywood Reporter uses Live+7 numbers for its final season numbers, so the actual increase is 19%, which is much more impressive. But the rest still stands.)
So, while fans of several shows feel those shows are unlucky to be on NBC, given its current performance and the upcoming Leno move, 30 Rock is very lucky it’s on NBC. I hope we see 30 Rock grow to actually impressive ratings, but for now I am content to have good for NBC ratings, as long as it means the show will live on for at least another season.
Source for all previous seasons' numbers are from The Hollywood Reporter, here and here, but you either need a paid subscription to view the archives or, like me, access through a university library. (I hope my library card never expires.) This season's numbers are either calculated by me using final numbers posted at Sitcoms Online or are taken from the numbers and charts available on this site.