“Empire” has finally started behaving like a normal TV show in terms of ratings. While it’s still far and away the No. 1 scripted series on TV in adults 18-49, its ratings have dropped off some in the two weeks since the second-season premiere.
That, of course, is what most shows do — and the opposite of what “Empire” did last year. After premiering to a very solid 3.8 in the 18-49 demographic (all numbers here are same-day ratings), it went on a nearly unbroken string of growth over the course of the season. (There was a slight, 0.1 decline in episode 4, after which it built on or maintained its rating for every subsequent episode.)
The show launched dozens of “see, broadcast TV still works!” thinkpieces, and even with its declines so far this season, it’s as big a hit as any network has seen in some time.
So the question is: How much time? Where would “Empire,” with its 6.1 rating through the first two weeks of the season, have stood in the broadcast landscape of 10 years ago? Would it have been considered as big a smash in 2005 as it was in 2015?
It depends on how you look at the numbers, but the answer is either “not quite” or “resounding yes.”
If you transplanted “Empire’s” 6.1 average for the opening two weeks to the start of the 2005-06 season, it would still be a hit — just not a world-beater. That figure would have placed it ninth or 10th in the rankings. The No. 1 show at the time? “Desperate Housewives,” whose first two episodes of fall 2005 averaged a 12.15 rating, which is hard to even fathom today.
By another metric, however, “Empire” is just as big a hit now as “Housewives” was then. The 18-49+ ranking developed by Spotted Ratings compares a show’s 18-49 ratings relative to the “league average” of all original shows on the Big 4 broadcasters each season, with 100 being average and anything over 150 considered a big hit. It’s a way to adjust for the performance of the show given the ratings environment in which it airs.
Through two weeks of 2015-16, “Empire’s” 18-49+ is 316. That, coincidentally, was also the 18-49+ number for the top-rated “American Idol” performance show in ’05-’06. (“Desperate Housewives” finished the season as the top scripted show with an 18-49+ of 248.)
It speaks to how far broadcast ratings have fallen in the past decade that “Empire” would have just been considered a strong, solid show then — a “House” or a “CSI: Miami.” Conversely, any show that could pull a double-digit 18-49 rating in the overnights these days would be looked at as an alien species.