Just a couple of years ago, CBS executives were joking about their position in the television hierarchy.
After rising from third place to first place in the ratings, "worst to first" references abounded. And, noting all the stories that had declared the network "mired in last place," the folks at CBS glibly declared themselves "mired in first place."They're not joking at CBS these days. Except for late-night king David Letterman, who's joking about CBS.
The network has just come off a season that can only be considered a disaster. After becoming the only network ever to rise from third to first place in a single season, they've now become the only network to fall from first to third place in a single season.
CBS's ratings are down more than 20 percent from last season. The network's numbers are lower on every night of the week.
Most embarrassing, CBS became the first of the Big Three networks ever to finish fourth in viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 - the demographic most valued by advertisers - by losing out to Fox.
Meanwhile, at ABC, NBC and Fox they've all got something to celebrate. For the first time in 15 years, ABC finished first in the overall ratings and among viewers 18-49.
ABC finished the season with an average 12.0 rating and a 20 share to NBC's 11.5/19, CBS's 11.1/18 and Fox's 7.6/12. (Each rating point represents 954,000 homes, and the share is the percentage of homes actually watching TV.)
Among viewers 18-49, it was ABC leading the way with a 7.3, followed by NBC's 6.9, Fox's 5.5 and CBS's 5.3.
Any celebration at ABC is somewhat tempered by the fact that their ratings were actually down 2 percent from last year.
Fox is also happy, having improved somewhat on their ratings from last season. And they're overjoyed to have beaten CBS among those 18-49 viewers.
NBC, although finishing second to ABC in both households and demographics, has the most to celebrate. Just a year ago the Peacock was still in third place and struggling. But behind such hits as "ER" and "Friends," NBC is now the network on the rise. NBC's household ratings were up only 2 percent, but the network did much better demographically.
Overall, the networks ended the official 30-week season - which ran from September 19 through this past Sunday - by losing a chunk of viewers. They finished the season with a 65 share in prime time, the lowest ever and down from a 69 share last season.
But that loss is due almost entirely to CBS's big decline. Part of that is because last season's average was inflated by the ratings of the Winter Olympics. But only partly.
And that decline became even more pronounced as the season progressed. Every midseason replacement series CBS put on the air actually did worse than the show it replaced.
CBS problems mean a near-impossible task for its programmers. They must get rid of an awful lot of shows that aren't working, but experience shows that the success rate for new shows is not high.
In other words, if CBS replaces 10, 11 or 12 hours of programming on its fall schedule, at best only a couple of those hours will probably succeed. And experience also shows that the more shows a network introduces in the fall, the fewer shows will become hits.
Locally, this is all bad news for KUTV-Ch. 2. That station's 10 p.m. newscast fell from second to third in the local ratings during the February sweeps - and it was riding the coattails of NBC's up-and-coming prime time lineup at the time.
Things could get ugly when Ch. 2 is saddled with CBS's shows come July, when the station switches affiliations with KSL-Ch. 5.
But while some pundits are writing CBS off as dead, that would seem premature. The only constant in network TV is change. In the cyclical world of ratings, a network can be written off one season and be back from the dead a year or two later. NBC and CBS have been riding that roller coaster for the past few seasons.
All it takes is a couple of hits to put a network back on track.
But CBS is going to have a struggle on its hands to introduce a couple of hits - and it may take more than a couple of seasons to rebuild after this disaster.
SEASON-ENDING RANKINGS: Here, from No. 1 to No. 146, are the rankings of all the regular series on all six broadcast networks during the 1994-95 regular season, along with their average rating. (If a show is listed more than once, then it aired on more than one night or time.)
1. Seinfeld (NBC), 20.5; 2. ER (NBC), 20.0; 3. Home Improvement (ABC), 19.9; 4. Grace Under Fire (ABC), 18.8; 5. Monday Night Football (ABC), 17.7; 6. 60 Minutes (CBS), 17.2; 7. NYPD Blue, (ABC), 16.5; 8. Friends (NBC), 16.1; 9. Roseanne (ABC), Murder She Wrote (CBS), 15.6; 11. Mad About You (NBC), 15.2; 12. Madman of the People (NBC), 14.9; 13. Ellen (ABC), 14.7; 14. Hope & Gloria (NBC), 14.6; 15. Frasier (NBC), 14.3; 16. Murphy Brown (CBS), 14.1; 17. 20/20 (ABC), 14.0; 18. CBS Sunday Movie, 13.7; 19. NBC Monday Movies, 13.6; 20. Dave's World (CBS), 13.4.
21. Me and the Boys (ABC), 13.1; 22. Cybill, (CBS), 12.8; 23. ABC Sunday Movie, 12.7; 24. Full House (ABC), Nanny (CBS), 12.5; 26. America's Funniest Home Videos (ABC), 12.4; 27. Law and Order (NBC), 12.2; 28. NBC Sunday Movie, Chicago Hope (CBS), 12.0; 30. Wings (NBC), 11.9; 31. ABC Monday Movie, PrimeTime Live (ABC), Martin Short (NBC), 11.7; 34. Family Matters (ABC), Dateline NBC, 11.6; 36. Boy Meets World (ABC), Turning Point (ABC), 11.5; 38. Thunder Alley (ABC), Step By Step (ABC), NewsRadio (NBC), 11.4.
41. Hangin' with Mr. Cooper (ABC), Walker, Texas Ranger (CBS), Northern Exposure (CBS), 11.2; 44. In the House (NBC), John Larroquette (NBC), 11.1; 46. Love & War (CBS), Beverly Hills, 90210 (Fox), 10.9; 48. Rescue: 911 (CBS), 10.8; 49. Dr. Quinn (CBS), Dateline NBC, 10.7; 51. CBS Tuesday Movie, 10.6; 52. Coach (ABC), Pride & Joy (NBC), 10.5; 54. All American Girl (ABC), Fresh Prince (NBC), Blossom (NBC), Diagnosis Murder (CBS), 10.4; 58. Lois & Clark (ABC), Due South (CBS), 10.2.
60. Sister, Sister (ABC), 10.1; 61. Matlock (ABC), 10.0; 62. Cosby Mysteries (NBC), 9.9; 63. Melrose Place (Fox), 9.7; 64. Amer. Funniest Home Videos (ABC), SeaQuest DSV (NBC), Picket Fences (CBS), 9.5; 67. Simpsons (Fox), Women of the House (CBS), Married . . . With Children (Fox), Dateline NBC, 9.4; 71. Something Wilder (NBC), X-Files (Fox), 9.1; 73. Commish (ABC), Sisters (NBC), Unsolved Mysteries (NBC), 48 Hours (CBS), 9.0; 77. Coach (ABC), Daddy's Girls (CBS), Touched by an Angel (CBS), Earth 2 (NBC), 8.9.
81. On Our Own (ABC), Under Suspicion (CBS), Living Single (Fox), 8.7; 84. Boys are Back (CBS), Five Mrs. Buchanans (CBS), 8.6; 86. Day One (ABC), 8.5; 87. Eye to Eye (CBS), 8.3; 88. Hearts Afire (CBS), Sliders (Fox), Homicide (NBC), 8.2; 91. CBS Wednesday Movie, Martin (Fox), 8.1; 93. Marshal (ABC), Under One Roof (CBS), House of Buggin' (Fox), Star Trek: Voyager (UPN), 7.9; 97. Whole New Ballgame (ABC), 7.8; 98. Cops 2 (Fox), Fox NFL postgame, 7.7.
100. ABC Saturday Movie, America's Most Wanted (Fox), Sweet Justice (NBC), 7.6; 103. McKenna (ABC), The Critic (Fox), 7.5; 105. Extreme (ABC), Simpsons (Fox), New York Undercover (Fox), George Wendt (CBS), 7.4; 109. Blue Skies (ABC), Wright Verdicts (CBS), 7.3; 111. Hardball (Fox), 7.2; 112. Cops (Fox), Mommies (NBC), 7.1; 114. My So-Called Life (ABC), Diagnosis Murder (CBS), George Carlin (Fox), Models Inc. (Fox), 7.0; 118. Empty Nest (NBC), 6.9; 119. The Office (CBS), 6.6.
120. Double Rush (CBS), Best of X-Files (Fox), 6.5; 122. Fox Tuesday Movie, Due South (CBS), 6.4; 124. Amazing Grace (NBC), 6.3; 125. Medicine Ball (Fox), Party of Five (Fox), 6.1; 127. Wild Oats (Fox), Burke's Law (CBS), Dream On (Fox), 6.0; 130. Dateline NBC, 5.9; 131. VR.5 (Fox), 5.6; 132. Encounters (Fox), M.A.N.T.I.S. (Fox), 5.1; 134. Fortune Hunter (Fox), Get Smart (Fox), 5.0; 136. Dateline NBC, 4.3; 137. Encounters (Fox), 4.1; 138. Great Defender (Fox), Marker, (UPN), 3.4.
140. Platypus Man (WB), 2.7; 141. Watcher (UPN), 2.6; 142. Pig Sty (UPN), 2.4; 143. Wayans Bros. (WB), 2.1; 144. Parent 'Hood (WB), 2.0; 145. Unhappily Ever After; (WB), 1.8; 146. Muscle (WB), 1.6.