Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Curse of The Apprentice


I enjoy curses. I don't believe in them, that is, not in the supernatural sense. But I do find it fascinating when a statistical blip delivers karmic justice.

In a previous post, I argued that Donald Trump's The Apprentice was never popular. Although it ranked in its first season among the top 10 TV shows, it did this while sandwiched between Friends and ER, both juggernaut series. Other series that were boosted into the top 10 by being in the Thursday night time slot when Friends and ER reigned included forgettables such as Fired Up and Boston Commons


When Boston Commons moved from Thursdays to Sundays, it dropped from 8th place to 52nd. None of the stars of Boston Commons or Fired Up have attempted running for president, although maybe Sharon Lawrence should. Or else Jonathan Banks.

With Donald Trump as the grumbler in chief, The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice lasted for 185 episodes. Of those, on only six occasions did it win its time slot against the three other networks (ABC, CBS and Fox). On several occasions it fell below the top offerings of cable, and in one case placed sixth.

Beginning with the season after the debut of The Apprentice, NBC's fortunes tumbled. This is the curse I wish to present here.


Below is a graph showing how many Top Ten TV shows (total viewers, all ages) ran on NBC during the years prior to The Apprentice, during the runs of The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, and in the time since.

Each year leading up to the debut of The Apprentice, NBC had at least three shows in the Top 10. During the years after the debut of The Apprentice, it never had three. When Trump's Apprentice was no longer on, NBC returned to having three or more.

 After the debut of The Apprentice, NBC lost its mojo. For three years it had no Top Ten TV Show. This was followed by four years with exactly one: Sunday Night Football. Although Sunday Night Football was a genuine hit, it only lasted for the fall, half of the television year (The Celebrity Apprentice took over in its spot in the spring.) In 2011, NBC debuted The Voice, a reality competition series that expanded to two nights, sometimes with both of its nights in the top 10.

In 2013-14, The Celebrity Apprentice took a hiatus. NBC bounced back with four top ten shows, including its first drama or sitcom series in the Top Ten since 2003-04: The Blacklist. In 2014-15, Trump's Apprentice returned for its final season and NBC returned again to two top ten shows: football and one night of The Voice.

Since the end of the scourge that was The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice, NBC has bounced back. In 2018-19, NBC had five top ten TV shows, although three of these were football.

Often what seem like chance curses are due to more than just randomness. With the debut of The Apprentice, NBC concentrated on reality programs while abandoning their strength: scripted comedy and drama series. In 2016, after Trump's reign had ended, NBC debuted This Is Us, its first comedy-drama series to consistently appear in the Top Ten since the end of Friends. In 2018-19, three NBC drama series, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, and Chicago Med helped fill out the spots between 10 and 20 and NBC had eight shows in the Top Twenty.

In recent years, NBC has added Thursday Night Football to its schedule. The Sunday Night pregame show also scores well in ratings. Nine years before Apprentice, average 5.1. The year The Apprentice debuted, 3.0. The ten years of The Trump Apprentice, 0.2. The years after The Apprentice debuted without a Trump Apprentice show: 1.75.

 

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