Except for CBS, the broadcast networks loaded up their Friday's last fall with their misfit scripted shows, and the ratings disappointed on the downside (except for the possible exception of Smallville). Even CBS, the only network to put 3 scripted hours on Friday, saw its shows bleed demo viewers at a far higher rate than the rest of its schedule.
Fox's misfit comedies (Brothers, Til Death) barely made a ripple in the ratings before being shuffled off of Fridays to fill in random gaps in the schedule before cancellation. Dollhouse performed so poorly, so quickly, that Fox was compelled to issue notice that it would air all the produced episodes to quell fan anxiety that the show would be pulled off the schedule early.
ABC's Ugly Betty, after poor ratings the previous season, was put on Friday to live out its last year before syndication, and cratered in the ratings, before being moved to plug another hole at 10pm Wednesday prior to cancellation. NBC's Law & Order also did terribly on Friday's, then was moved to Monday at 10pm after the Lenopocalypse where cancellation would likely follow if it wasn't about to break the longevity record (as well as being on desperate NBC).
Even CBS, which could point to its Friday dramas with a bit of pride suffered ratings losses far in excess of the rest of its schedule. Ghost Whisperer down 21%, Medium down 25% (vs. Monday on NBC), Numb3rs down 24%. That pride got a lot more expensive this year.
Smallville's 29% fall (compared with Thursday) looks similarly bad, but compared to the rest of the CW schedule it held up rather well. That's less a positive for Smallville than a negative vs. the rest of CW's schedule.
Because of the record this past season, I'd look for NBC, ABC and Fox to go all unscripted on Friday's next season. I'd still expect CBS to go with 3 hours of scripted shows next fall, but I'm not sure how much longer that will happen. I'd expect the CW to keep Smallville on Friday's, but I would not expect them to replace the ANTM repeat with a scripted show because of the expense to the network.
The content of my original post from 9/10/09 is below with new additions in red:
NOTE: The season-to-date averages below are only through March 21, and do not include any data for the week of March 22-28.
In sharp contrast to Thursday night, where the broadcast networks bring out their heavyweights, Friday night is reserved in most cases for a broadcaster's misfit shows. They're not dead yet or they'd be on Saturday, but they aren't deemed strong enough to put on any night that really matters.
The exception to that Friday broadcast programming rule is CBS, which has in the past fielded two hours of slightly below average (for the network as a whole) ratings performers. This season, they've added Medium, which was cast off by NBC, and look to have their strongest Friday line up in several years.
The shows are each misfits in their own "special" ways, Ugly Betty is airing the episodes it needed to produce for syndication minimums, benefiting the Disney empire overall. 'Til Death, was bad enough to be pulled after 5 episodes last season, but a reportedly "give away" licensing deal by Sony Pictures Television to get it to syndication has resurrected it. Law & Order is here to achieve it's 20th season and then drift into the sunset. I think Southland's renewal was realized to be a mistake soon after its announcement, and it's perhaps thought to be either too expensive or too much of a come down to *start* it off on Saturday night this season. Enough has been written already about Dollhouse's low ratings and its surprising renewal. Since Fox had no other half hour free anywhere on its schedule for a non-animated show, Brothers gets stuck in front of 'Til Death. And while Smallville is anything but ratings challenged (at least for the CW), it doesn't fit with the CW's "all young women, all the time" demo target, so off it went to Friday. Such are the tales of the Friday misfits.
Below are the hourly lineups, including each shows 18-49 demo rating average (which includes in-slot repeats) from the 2008-9 season as well as my guesses for the fall nightly overall results.
8:00 (Every show plunges, but Smallville is a relative success vs. the rest of the CW lineup)
Supernanny (ABC), 1.7 18-49 demo rating (1.3 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
Ghost Whisperer (CBS), 2.4 18-49 demo rating (1.9 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
Smallville (CW), 1.4 demo rating (on Thursday last season) (1.0 adults 18-49 season to date rating) (additional comparisons, Everybody Hates Chris (0.6 A18-49 average) and The Game (0.7 A18-49 average) canceled from last season)
Brothers (Fox), New (0.9 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
Law & Order(NBC), 2.1 demo rating (on Wednesday last season) (1.4 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
8:30 (Til Death shows how low it can go)
'Til Death (Fox), 1.8 demo rating (on Wednesday last season, just 5 non-repeat episodes) (0.7 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
9:00 (Ugly Betty's visit to Friday is punishing, Medium falls, Dollhouse renewal negatively rewarded)
Ugly Betty (ABC), 2.3 demo rating (on Thursday last season) (1.2 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
Medium (CBS) 2.4 demo rating (on NBC Monday last season) (1.8 adults 18-49 season to date rating) (additional comparisons, The Ex-List canceled and Flashpoint relegated to likely summer substitute each with a 1.9 rating average last season)
America's Next Top Model Repeats (CW) 0.6 demo rating (last fall's repeats on Fridays and Sundays) (0.5 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
Dollhouse (Fox), 1.5 demo rating (0.8 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
Southland (NBC), 2.4 demo rating (Thursday last season) (replaced by Dateline before premiere)
10:00 (x.x adults 18-49 season to date rating)
20/20 (ABC), 1.9 demo rating (1.7 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
Numb3rs(CBS), 2.1 demo rating (1.6 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
The Jay Leno Show (NBC), New, Fall 2009 Tonight Show averaged about a 1.4-1.5 demo rating (1.3 adults 18-49 season to date avg on Friday)
These posts are getting to be a broken record, but it's hard not to imagine CBS dominating Fridays. They typically won the night last season, and Medium is a net positive. Second place looks to be a battle between NBC and ABC that I think NBC will likely win. Leno has his easiest competition of the week and should do relatively well.
Fox looks to be well back in 4th, but since their Fridays last season were so screwed up, season to season comparisons may not be that bad. The CW will see a big increase on Fridays, since Smallville, their best 18-49 demo show last season, will do far better than The Game and Everybody Hates Chris that it replaces.
Note: I make all my guesses completely unburdened by having read any reviews of any of the new shows, having seen any of the pilots, or knowing any more than the most casual details of their subject matter. Does that make mine better or worse than the typical TV writer which focuses almost solely on those? Your mileage may vary.
Fox caveat: Regardless of their other shows, the outcome of the major league baseball playoffs can make or break Fox's fall averages. If they get long series with good matchups their overall season averages benefit tremendously. If they get short series with bad matchups, they'll suffer.