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20 Fascinating Nielsen Ratings Facts That Will Blow Out Your Brain Holes

By 04.08.13

Every week I write a box-office related list over on Pajiba, and while some are more interesting than others, there’s always something to talk about. Thanks to inflation and rising ticket prices, there always seems to be a new box-office record being broken, even as overall admissions continue their downward trend (which also contributes to many records of futility).

Similarly, it’s an interesting time to be following Nielsen ratings. Because of their increasingly reduced value, the explosion in the number of television shows to watch, and the shift away from network television to cable television, comparisons between today and even three or four years ago is apples to oranges. However, it does highlight a lot of interesting statistics about television viewing in 2013 compared to television viewing 5, 10 or even 20 years ago. Below, I’ve compared a lot of those apples to oranges to illustrate just how striking and sudden the shift has been.

1. The year it debuted, “Cheers” was dead last in the ratings: 77 out of 100 shows. Twelve years later, it ended with the 22nd highest rated show in the history of television. 84 million people watched the finale. That’s more than twice the viewers of the highest rated episode of “American Idol” of all time (36 million viewers).

2. In 1995, when Jurassic Park debuted on television, 68 million people watched it on NBC. That’s more viewers than any Oscar telecast has ever received. However, it’s not the most watched theatrical movie on television of the last 30 years. That title belongs to the 1987 broadcast of Eddie Murphy’s Trading Places.

3. The last The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was seen by 50 million people. Jay Leno’s last The Tonight Show before Conan O’Brien took over in 2009 was seen by 9 million people.

4. In the 18-49 demo, Conan O’Brien’s last “Tonight Show” episode scored better (4.8) than Leno’s last “Tonight Show” before being replaced by O’Brien (3.4). Right now, Leno’s ratings average around .9 in the 18-49 demo. Believe it or not, however, Last Call with Carson Daly — which comes on NBC after Late Night with Jimmy Fallon now has around the same number of viewers that Conan does on TBS (900,000).

5. The lowest rated average weekly ratings for the “Jay Leno Show” — NBC’s experiment with Leno at 10 p.m. five nights a week — was 4.8 million viewers. That was in 2010. Last week, NBC debuted Hannibal at 10 p.m. on Thursdays. It scored 4.3 million viewers and was considered a modest success.

6. In the 18-49 demo, this year’s season finale of The Walking Dead was seen by more people than NBC’s entire Thursday night comedy line-up COMBINED.

7. In 2005, when The Office debuted on NBC, it averaged 5.4 million viewers, good for the 102nd most popular show on television. For the 2012-2013 season, The Office averages 4.2 million viewers and is the highest rated sitcom on NBC.

8. Last Wednesday, thanks to a marathon on A&E, Duck Dynasty accounted for 14 of the top 26 shows on ALL of cable for the day. The second highest first-run episode of any show on cable that night was Psych, which was beaten by 11 reruns of Duck Dynasty.

9. Newsradio, which struggled in the ratings on NBC and finished its 5th year in 77th place overall among all network shows would be the highest rated scripted program on the entire NBC schedule today.

10. The Game of Thrones premiere scored a 2.4 among 18-49 year olds on HBO this past week; that’s a better rating than any scripted Fox program IN ALL OF 2013.


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