How’d They Do? Evaluating The Ratings of NCIS, NCIS: LA, and NCIS: NO

Welcome to this edition of How’d They Do?. The ratings for all three of NCIS shows are here. Note that this does not include cancelations, but rather shows that were announce to be ending ahead of time.

Credit for the ratings go to Programming Insider. Any missing numbers is a result of them not being reported.

NCIS (2003-Present)
NCIS is one of the most successful spin-offs in television history. It has far outlived its mother show, JAG, having held the Tuesday at 8pm time slot for CBS through the entirety of its 17-season run. Season 18 will bring the show past the 400 episode mark, and it launched two successful spinoffs (and one failed pilot.) While it started off with paltry ratings, it grew into a hit for CBS that will be tough to be replicated.

As is indicated by the color coding, NCIS is one of many shows that saw notable ratings gains toward the end of the season, which was also the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine. In general, many 8pm shows rose in the ratings because of this; not just in same-day viewing, but also in delayed viewing. While the bump only lasted three episodes before the season ended, those ratings contributed toward the impressive season NCIS had on a whole. Drops in Live + 7 viewing among adults aged 18-49 is not ideal given the lesser magnitude of the same day viewing drops, but still nothing to be concerned about.

NCIS even managed to be up ever so slightly in the Men 18-34 demographic, posting a 0.50 this season compared to a 0.49 in Season 16. The median age of a viewer rose by 1.1 years, indicating that many new viewers are on the older side. Still, the steadiness in all 18-34 demos is one of the biggest success stories for NCIS this season. 

NCIS added a considerable number of viewers when Canadians are factored into the equation. It consistently ranked among the top-viewed shows in Canada; getting over two million viewers, as it did in a few occasions, is no small feat. 

It has to be wondered where NCIS would have finished if people weren’t stuck inside and it was able to film its whole season, not “just” 20 episodes. Regardless of that hypothetical outcome, it can’t be denied that NCIS is a valuable property to CBS. With the network trying to turn FBI into a franchise, getting that support from NCIS at 8pm is crucial.

Grade: A

NCIS: LA (2009-Present)
NCIS: LA was a hit before it even began, being sold into a lucrative syndication deal based on the name alone. It was NCIS’s first spinoff, and aired its first several seasons in the Tuesdays at 9pm time slot, directly after NCIS. In the last few years, it has been moved around the schedule multiple times; first with a move to Mondays at 10pm, and later moves throughout Sunday night. In the 2019-20 season, it settled on the Sundays at 9pm time slot, airing between God Friended Me and Madam Secretary in the fall. In the spring, it continued to have God Friended Me as a lead-in, and aired before NCIS: NO.

NCIS: LA’s A18-49 ratings were solid given the circumstances, but definitely nothing to brag about. This is especially true when a look is given to the ratings for its finale, hitting lows in almost all demos. Still, the show had its fair share of decent ratings, often being the scripted highlight of CBS’ Sunday night lineup. That may say more about the shows surrounding NCIS: LA than it does about it,  but it’s nothing to discount.

Year-to-year percentage drops vary wildly throughout all demos. The A18-49 declines were somewhat similar, in the 17-20% range. It only fell 0.02 year-to-year in W18-34, leading to a 6% decline, yet saw declines of over 20% amongst younger men. The median age rose roughly 1.5 years, which may explain why the decline in total viewers looks healthier than that in most demos.

Absent the finale, the ratings for the final batch of episodes were similar to those of the first few episodes. NCIS: LA has found a loyal audience, and CBS still sees it valuable enough in same-day ratings to keep a non-10pm time slot.

Grade: B

NCIS: NO (2014-Present)
CBS picking up NCIS: NO in 2014 saved the franchise from having two rejected pilots in two seasons. They placed it on their schedule in the Tuesdays at 9pm time slot, moving NCIS: LA instead of creating an all-NCIS lineup. It had since occupied the Tuesdays at 10pm time slot, before moving to Sundays at 10pm in a midseason move this season. It has proven to be the “least-strong” of the three NCIS shows, but still a good investment given the decent-enough ratings and tie-in with NCIS.

The color coding clearly shows the point where NCIS: NO made the move to Sundays at 10pm. Falling from a 0.85 in same-day viewing among adults aged 18-49 on its last Tuesday episode to a 0.46 in its first Sunday episode is rough. At that point, it would be expected it could go as low as 0.3-0.4 by the time the season finishes. NCIS: NO did rebound a bit from that in same-day viewing, but the seven-day viewing trajectory is a different story. Down 0.24 to a 1.03 L+7 rating for its Sunday premiere, NCIS: NO only went higher in three of the nine subsequent episodes. 

Year-to-year percentage declines were pretty standard, in the double digits but lower than a 20% drop. Unlike NCIS and NCIS: LA, NCIS: NO didn’t have any trends that looks particularly great on a year-to-year basis, but given the move to Sunday, things could have easily gone worse.

Over the course of the season, the ratings amongst viewers aged 25 to 54 did not hold as steady as the 18 to 34 and 18 to 49 demos. While the younger demos certainly had their off weeks, like when it slipped 0.7–>0.2 in W18-34 between the Tuesday finale and Sunday premiere, the start and end of the season saw pretty similar ratings.

Had the 0.46 for the Sunday premiere defined NCIS: NO’s Sunday night run, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to give this season a low grade and anticipate the show concluding in the next year or two. Its rebound demonstrates NCIS: NO is likely here to stay for a while longer, as CBS has found something that can bring improvements to the non-coveted time slot.

Grade: B

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