At End of Broadcast Season, Tension Builds: Where Are Viewers?

It's May -- and where are all the big TV shows?

The May sweep should be the biggest month of the year, with season and series finales and maybe even a few network show finales (the only one in that category is "Scrubs," which moves to ABC next year from NBC).

But "Grey's Anatomy" was down 9% from its first airing in the May sweeps; "Lost" was down 8%; and "American Idol" was off 5% versus the week before (which wasn't in the May sweeps).

Shouldn't shows be climbing as the season ends? Even Fox's "House," returning this past Monday, got a warm welcome back from viewers -- and 11% decline from its season average. CBS's "CSI" is down as well.

To be fair, ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Brothers & Sister" came back a bit in their second-week May sweep airings -- but not by much.



Where is this all going? Some analysts speculate the writers' strike gave viewers an excuse not to watch their favorite dramas. That kind of analysis intrigues me, because it suggests viewers don't really want to be there in the first place.

That's how flimsy this whole season is right now -- just a step away from viewers turning to other forms of entertainment like knitting, celebrity-bashing on the phone with friends, or the always popular gazing into space.

Network programmers still believe serial dramas are the best way to keep viewers on hold -- by having them hooked on mediocre stuff.  Then hopefully, the writing, plot lines, and story arcs will come around.

Typically, that coming around is in sweep periods, especially in May. Still, there are few weeks left to go -- so perhaps all will be right in the world this May.

But come June, the TV world may collapse again. Another strike looms -- this time from the actors' unions.

That'll surely spell some nice rating crumbs in September.

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