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Hit Shows That Got Off To A Slow Start: The Office

The Office is one of the biggest comedy hits NBC has offered viewers in many years. In fact, its final season, which was its second-lowest in relative ratings, was unmatched until Superstore came along this season. But in 2005, NBC probably didn't think the show would be so quoted and remembered fondly as it is now. So how did it all begin, and how did it get to where it ended up?

Part 1: The Slow Start
The Office's start reminds me of Seinfeld's in a way; with only six episodes in its first season, NBC had very few data points to go by when deciding whether to renew the show or not, which was based off a popular British show of the same name. What they saw was a 5.0 premiere rating in the A18-49 demographic (stellar retention out of a 5.3 lead-in), but falling all the way down to a 2.3 just barely over a month later (its lead-in then was a 2.8). While those numbers would be instantly renewable today, that 2.3 for the finale was just 56% of the Big 4 average that season. To put this into perspective, that was right in between what Undateable did for its short-lived Friday stint and what The Muppets did towards the end of its short run. And we all know what happened to those shows. But instead of a cancelation, The Office was renewed and it progressed into a hit show.

Part 2: The Raw Growth
Today, it's customary for a show to fall in the ratings, so we look at it in terms of its ratings relative to other shows. Well between the 2004-05 season and the 2005-06 season, there was no league average decline. Though, there probably would have been a little bit of one if The Office didn't rise 41%. The success isn't completely inexplicable; star Steve Carell had become a summer sensation for his lead role in movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Still, you wouldn't expect a show to rise that much as a result. What really happened is that NBC had a ton of faith in the show and aired it in some cushy time slots. While it averaged a 4.2 A18-49 rating that season, its lead-in averaged a 5.2, and despite the growth it still barely cracked the league average. But with the show gathering more and more hype and praise, Season 3 remarkably stayed steady (only two hundredths of a drop) despite the average lead-in dropping to a 3.8. The penultimate episode of its third season rose over a demo point from its lead-in, and it kept that same number when its finale was asked to air after local affiliates in a lower-viewed half-hour. Not too shabby. And as its lead-in kept dealing, The Office kept rising. IN its fourth season it was asked to anchor an hour at 9pm on Thursdays, and grew 10% in raw numbers to a 4.5. Its lead-in average was down to a 3.0. So to recap, between Seasons 2 and 4, The Office went from a 4.2 to a 4.5, while its lead-in went from a 5.2 to a 3.0. Sorry for throwing so many numbers at everyone at once, but I think we can all agree that's remarkable. By then, it was at 137% of the league average, a. To put that into perspective, that's right around where The Goldbergs just did this past season, and it's TV's #3 comedy.

Part 3: The Raw Decline, But Relative Growth
By now, DVRs are really setting in and we're no longer seeing seasons where the league average doesn't decline. But now we do, and The Office's 5th season was down 6% (gasp!). Which is extremely remarkable; its lead-in was down to a 2.3. I mean, you almost can't make up how fast its lead-in numbers have declined over the years. That's pretty much the same poor trajectory that The Office itself took in its first season! The Office would proceed to go down 7% and 6% in raw ratings over its sixth and seventh seasons while its lead-in leveled out more or less too. A 3.7 out of a 1.9 in a show's seventh season isn't that bad, obviously, and by this point The Office was simply a phenomenon. Their was huge media coverage when Steve Carell announced it was his final season; it was almost as if the show itself was ending. At 147% of the league average, this was The Office's strongest season ever, and since NBC's league average was just 78% of the Big 4 average, The Office was at almost 190% of NBC's average. That's significantly higher than the two most recent cycles of The Voice.

Part 4: Steve Carell Left, and So Did Viewers
The rest of the story of The Office was rather sad, though remember that it was still massively above its first season's relative ratings, so it still is more than qualified for a "Shows That Got Off To A Slow Start" article. Season 8 was down 26% in raw ratings and 20% in relative ratings, and while NBC's average in general was as pathetic as it was the season before, that's still not a good trend. The show spent the entire 8th season trying to find its voice in a post-Michael Scott world, but viewers bailed big time. By the end of the season, some of the original cast members reportedly told the producers that after the upcoming 9th season it was time to end while they still had some dignity. And viewers kept bailing, down another 24% for its 9th season. Many have said that The Office should have ended after 7 seasons, but NBC was making way too much money off of it for that to happen. You just can't get rid of a show that's doing almost double that of the average. And while The Office continued to make them money, it took for a relatively strong finale for the show to avoid falling under the Big 4 league average for the first time since its first season. But even then, NBC has tried to bring in big stars, air promising new projects out of The Voice, give shows Olympic previews, but none have come close to hitting the heights of The Office. Maybe Superstore will do the same, only time will tell, but it's hard to count on a show growing like that nowadays.