Revisiting Fall 2004

Yesterday marked 10 years since the start of the 2004-2005 television season. Tomorrow the 2014-2015 season gets underway. So now seems like the perfect time to look back a decade at Fall 2004 and the new obscurities that were introduced then. The 2004-2005 season was a big one for television, perhaps the biggest in recent memory, thanks to the introduction of shows like Lost, Desperate Housewives, House, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Office. But there were also plenty of flops and one season wonders.

Back then, CSI could still draw over 30 million viewers some weeks and it was common to have two or three (or more) scripted shows averaging 20 million viewers each week. In January 2013, it was a pretty big deal when NCIS and The Big Bang Theory both averaged more than 20 million viewers. It was the first time since November 2007 that two scripted shows had hit 20 million during the same week and I don’t believe it has happened again since. The 2004-2005 season was also the first without any original scripted programming on Saturday nights. I’m sure there were those who didn’t expect to see original scripted programming on Friday nights in 2014 but the networks haven’t thrown in the towel quite yet.

Before long we won’t be able to say “the television landscape has changed an awful lot in the past decade” but today we can, because truthfully quite a bit has changed since Fall 2004. There were six major networks in existence; UPN and The WB wouldn’t merge until September 2006. Ion Television was called Pax TV and still offered original programming of its own. The digital transition was several years away. Streaming didn’t really exist and “binge watching” wasn’t a thing. Netflix was only offering DVDs by mail and Hulu and Amazon Instant Video didn’t exist. You couldn’t even buy episodes of your favorite shows on iTunes or cable/satellite on-demand services.

Between them, the Big Six introduced a total of 31 new programs during Fall 2004, some of which didn’t premiere until October or November. Here’s a list, with those TV Guide called TV Guide Favorites marked with an asterisk. How many do you remember?

The Benefactor (reality)
Boston Legal
Complete Savages
Desperate Housewives*
Less Than Perfect
Life As We Know It
Wife Swap*

Center of the Universe
Dr. Vegas
Listen Up

The Contender (reality)
Father of the Pride
Medical Investigation*

The Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best (reality)
The Complex: Malibu (reality)

The Next Great Champ (reality)
The Partner (reality)
Renovate My Family (reality)

Kevin Hill*
Second Time Around
Veronica Mars*

The WB
Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show (reality)
Jack & Bobby*
The Mountain

(The WB had another sitcom, Commando Nanny with Gerald McRaney, planned for Fall 2004 but it was beset by injuries and illnesses to the cast and was pulled after two pilots had been filmed.)

With the obvious exception of successful and long running shows like Lost, CSI: NY, Desperate Housewives (and for other reasons perhaps Veronica Mars), I suspect many people won’t recognize most of these titles, let alone what the shows were about or who was in them. That said, some of these short-lived shows were actually watched by quite a few people, so who really knows.

Ten years ago the networks were more than willing to pull the plug on shows with ratings that today would be considered minor hits. For example, Listen Up, which survived the entire season before cancellation struck, averaged 9.6 million viewers. The five episodes of Dr. Vegas that aired averaged 8.2 million viewers. On the other hand, ABC’s Life As We Know It averaged 3.8 million viewers while The Mountain on The WB just 1.9 million.

One thing that has changed for the better over the past ten years is the availability of short-lived shows. Few of the failures and one season wonders that debuted as part of Fall 2004 have ever been syndicated or released on DVD. They are basically inaccessible to anyone who might be interested in viewing them. The new shows introduced this fall will likely all be available for purchase through video on demand services like iTunes or Amazon Instant Video, which offers some small hope of longevity not available a decade ago.

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