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The first season of Supernatural, way back in 2005-06, averaged a little more than 4.5 million viewers per episode. That was good for 165th place in the Nielsen rankings for that season.
Had the show averaged that many same-day viewers for its 15th season in 2019-20, it would have ranked 52nd.
Because of where it aired — one season on The WB and 14 more on its successor, The CW, neither of which ever commanded anywhere near the audience of the other broadcast networks — Supernatural never broke out and became a huge ratings performer. But its long history, which predates even the network where it will end its 327-episode run on Thursday, bridges the waning years of broadcast dominance, the rise of streaming and the Peak TV era. The numbers attached to it also tell a story about how viewing habits have changed over the years.
“It’s a lot of the foundation [of the network] in many, many ways,” The CW CEO Mark Pedowitz said on The Hollywood Reporter‘s TV’s Top 5 podcast last week. Even with move to Friday nights for two seasons starting in 2010, the show more than held its own, and its portability across the schedule — it’s aired on five different nights over its run — has helped establish other shows, including several series in the network’s Arrow-verse.
“It has been the lead-in or lead-out to almost the entire schedule,” Pedowitz said. “It’s made successes out of shows that might not have [otherwise] been sampled, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that Supernatural brought in an audience that demographically was 50-50, male to female. Its audience was passionate and willing to sample, and for that I’ll miss it.”
The show’s early numbers were decent for The WB, but not especially noteworthy in the context of that time, when shows like American Idol, CSI and Desperate Housewives routinely drew 25 million viewers a week. The mid-aughts were the last time network shows (that aren’t NFL games) regularly amassed such big audiences the night they aired. The growth of delayed viewing (and Nielsen’s regular measurement of it) in the next few years would chip away at those big initial numbers, and the streaming era would lead to further declines in linear viewing in the 2010s.
Pedowitz noted on TV’s Top 5, however, that The CW’s first Netflix deal included seasons one through six of Supernatural, and a lot of people binge-watched the series before season seven debuted in the fall of 2012. That was a good sign, he said, as the show was paired with a new series called Arrow: “We had the makings of a very strong night.”
Like just about every other broadcast in the past decade, Supernatural’s linear ratings have faded. Its importance to The CW, however, hasn’t. For the past 10 years, it has never fallen below No. 5 in the network’s yearly rankings.
Here are some key numbers from the show’s run.
327: Number of episodes for Supernatural, including Thursday’s series finale.
84: Difference between the episode count of Supernatural and the next longest-running scripted show ever to air on The CW, 7th Heaven with 243 (including its WB years). That’s about four seasons’ worth of shows.
6: Time periods where the series has aired — 9 p.m. Tuesday, 9 p.m. Thursday, 9 p.m. Friday, 9 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Monday. It has spent the most time (100 episodes) in the 9 p.m. Thursday slot.
12: Number of shows it has been paired with. They are Gilmore Girls, Smallville, The Vampire Diaries, Nikita, Arrow, The Originals, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Riverdale, Legacies, Roswell, New Mexico and The Outpost.
5.69 million: Same-day viewers for the series pilot on Sept. 10, 2005.
5.82 million: The show’s same-day high in viewers, for the season one episode “Route 666.”
4.2: Average ranking among WB/CW series in total viewers over the course of its 15 seasons. Its lowest finish was ninth in 2006-07, The CW’s inaugural season.
4: The number of times its initial audience has fallen below 1 million viewers, all in the final season.
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