It seems to be an anticlimactic TV season. Many networks shows have witnessed not only falling ratings in their finales versus a year ago -- but weirdly lower ratings versus recent in-season episodes.
Typically, TV shows peak for their season-enders. But a number of shows can't even match what they have done with an average in-season episode.
Even the biggest shows are getting slammed. "American Idol" dropped some 18% in viewers in its season-ending episode versus its 2009 finale. By way of comparison, "Idol" has been down a more modest 7% versus its season-average ratings in 2009, its eighth season.
Considering this was Simon Cowell's last episode on the show, one might have expected a bit more. TV is still built for the big event. The Super Bowl and the Summer Olympics can show off big numbers.
Not everything can be a big event, as much as TV marketers try to create one. You need an element of surprise -- or satisfaction. Paula Abdul came back to "Idol" somewhat unexpectedly, but that didn't help. Bret Michaels winning "Celebrity Apprentice" -- straight from his serious medical problems -- was rewarded with improved numbers. But this was a hard-earned exception against a growing rule.
What's wrong here with standard network prime-time series? Perhaps the viewer doesn't recognize a TV network finale as a big event any longer -- even for network TV shows that are coming to an end. The two-decade long "Law & Order" ended its long run with decidedly ho-hum results -- as did Fox's "24".
It gets worse: No sooner did NBC give thumbs up to always-on-the-bubble show "Chuck" for another year, than its special two-hour season-ender registered its lowest rating for the season. A number of Fox Sunday animated comedies finales couldn't compete with their recent respective original episodes.
Is marketing to blame? TV network marketing executives have been proud to talk about efficiencies these days -- which means working with the same or fewer dollars. But all the shifting of strategies can do only so much, and networks' dependence on their own airwaves for promotion doesn't seem to be working all that well.
Of course, there were shows they did see finale gains. But smart viewers seem anxious to move on, especially when story lines aren't incredibly -- or perhaps impossibly -- strong.