“Bones,” it has to be said, was never a big, network-defining hit. Yet conversely, it’s hard to imagine FOX over the past decade-plus without the show, which airs its final episode Tuesday night.
The series ends its 12-season, 246-episode tenure as the longest-running drama ever to air on FOX, which creator Hart Hanson calls “a terrific triumph.”
“When all is said and done ‘Bones’ reached the top of the stairs, turned around to face the world, raised its arms to the heavens, and did a little dance,” Hanson says via e-mail. “Or perhaps that was just me.”
Hanson can be forgiven his pride of ownership. Still, the story of how “Bones” managed to last that long is a pretty interesting one, with many, many different stops along the way.
How many? Over its 12 seasons, “Bones” has aired on five nights of the week (all but Saturday and Sunday) and in eight different regular timeslots. FOX only programs 15 hours of primetime each week, so “Bones” has aired in more than half of the available time periods on the network. (If you include the second half of two-hour stunts, “Bones” has aired in nine different places.)
Its longest run in a single timeslot is 44 episodes: Seasons 10 and 11 ran at 8 p.m. ET/PT Thursdays. That’s less than 20 percent of its lifespan. In comparison, “Grey’s Anatomy” has aired in only three timeslots over 13 seasons; “NCIS” has never budged from its 8 p.m. Tuesday home in 14 seasons.
Here’s a breakdown of how often the series aired in its various timeslots:
“Bones” began its life airing at 8 p.m. Tuesdays in the fall of 2005. It moved to 9 on Wednesdays for five episodes in the winter, where it followed “American Idol,” then preceded “Idol” for the remainder of the season.
While that may seem like a vote of confidence — “Idol” was near its world-dominating peak in 2005-06 — Hanson says that move made him more nervous than any subsequent change.
“The first switch was the most nail-biting because it felt like FOX was giving us either one last chance (looked at positively) or was setting us up to fail,” he says. “It was extremely nerve-wracking when we were put after ‘American Idol’ because of the expectations — and I’d done my homework to realize that hardly any show ever benefitted from that slot (kudos to my pal David Shore and his show ‘House’ for being the exception). We didn’t do much better, but we didn’t do any worse in that slot.
“I can’t speak for everyone on ‘Bones,’ but after that when they announced a timeslot change, I’d stick out my chin and roll up my sleeves and puff up my chest and say, ‘Bring it on!'”
More than once, FOX also announced “Bones” would move to Fridays at the start of a new season, then reverse course and keep the show in the middle of the week.
“I always hated the announcement that we’d be moving to Fridays in the fall,” Hanson says. “I hated that. [FOX scheduling guru] Preston Beckman would assure me it probably wouldn’t happen, but it took me about three years to believe him. Then it happened [for seven weeks in the 2014-15 season], and we did very well on Fridays. We thought we’d found a new, safe home. Then they moved us off Fridays.”
Despite all the moves, “Bones” was a very consistent performer for FOX. It averaged a 2.9 rating or higher among adults 18-49 in each of its first six seasons and stayed above 2.0 through Season 8.
Its declines have been larger in the past few years, but it’s been a very resilient show. Per Spotted Ratings, it pulled in above-average ratings for a Big 4 network show in four seasons and was within 15 percent of the four-network average for non-sports shows for Seasons 1-9 before tailing off later in life.
Hanson credits the show’s loyal audience for helping it survive the move — as well as FOX’s recognition that “Bones” could survive in a lot of places.
“[Former FOX chairman] Peter Rice once explained to me that there were ‘hardy shows’ and ‘fragile shows,’ that some big hits were actually quite fragile because if they were removed from their safe environment they would plummet in the ratings,” Hanson says. “‘Bones’ was a pretty hardy show.
“Our fans weren’t watching it because of where it was — they would find it within two episodes of every move. … I think the best thing that happened was that our audience started to identify with us has a hardy little weed that couldn’t be killed — we preferred the ‘Little Engine that Could’ metaphor.”
Despite all that, “Bones” made it to the top of the hill. The series finale airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT Tuesday. Here are some more numbers from the show’s run — including the number of dead bodies seen on screen — courtesy of our friends at Screener.