Viewers Not Rushing Back to Favorite TV Programs

The writer’s strike is long over but its impact continues, as viewers have been slow to return to their old viewing habits.

Family Watching TV

Just because your favorite dramas and comedies are back on the air after the writers strike doesn’t mean you’re necessarily watching them. A preliminary look at ratings of returning programs on the big broadcast networks reveals that the “majority of original programming has failed to return to its pre-strike levels among key demos,” according to Havas media-buying shop MPG. The firm found that audiences are “coming back to some of the shows, but not most of them,” said Nina Kanter, VP-director of communications analysis at MPG.


There are legitimate reasons for the ratings declines. Some shows have seen their competition alter as networks rearrange their schedules. CBS’s “NCIS” and “Criminal Minds” now face Fox’s “American Idol,” for instance. Because most networks put the bulk of their marketing spending into promos that run on their own air, it’s quite possible that TV audiences, turned off by repeats and strike-replacement programming, didn’t get those messages, according to MPG’s analysis.

Some returning shows are doing well. NBC’s “The Office” and “Scrubs” have demonstrated improved post-strike ratings, MPG said, though both have aired without regular competitor “Grey’s Anatomy” on the air. CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” also posted ratings gains compared to its pre-strike performance, but the sitcom may also have benefited from a guest appearance by singer Britney Spears.

It may just be that the traditional model has been overtaken by events, with the strike-forced hiatus helping push trends along.

With the exception of sporting events, I seldom watch television shows “live” anymore, instead watching the handful of shows that we TiVo. And, increasingly, my wife and I are mega-time shifting our viewing, simply waiting until the shows are available on DVD. The ability to watch the entire run of a series at one’s own pace and without commercial interruption makes it very difficult to go back to episodic viewing.

Photo credit: Making the Modern World

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    My immediate response would be that if viewers are not rushing back to their old viewing habits then perhaps the shows they were watching were successful not because they were GOOD, particularly, anymore, but because it was an engrained habit.

    Commercial TV, particualrly the big three, have been coasting for a long while, and so too ahve the writers of the shows that they transmit. When the people payning the newly inflated writers fees look at all of this, one wonders if they’ll consider that they made a bad bargain in the agreement with the writer’s unions.

  2. teqjack says:

    Bithead’s point is a good one. If viewer numbers are down overall, showing people are doing something else (but what, bowling?).

    But add that a number of shows are not slated to return until late this month, and a certain lack of ballyhoo…

  3. Bithead says:

    but what, bowling?

    Obvioulsy no, given we have less bowling halls than we did a few years ago. Sad, too, that.
    But, now, most of them are watching other things, from other sources. DVD’s, for one thing.

    Or maybe they’re all Blogging.