Surprise! After Two Seasons of Declines, “NCIS: Los Angeles” Rebounds in Season Eight

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Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J of CBS’s “NCIS: Los Angeles”.

When this season’s fall broadcast schedules were unveiled in May, one of the more eyebrow-raising moves (from our vantage point) was CBS relocating NCIS: Los Angeles from Monday nights at 10pm to the 8pm anchor position on Sunday nights opposite Once Upon a Time on ABC, The Simpsons/Son of Zorn on FOX and Sunday Night Football on NBC.

Granted, this wasn’t the show’s first time slot move — and this one certainly wasn’t as eyebrow-raising as the last one. In the fall of 2014, the NCIS spinoff was relocated from Tuesdays at 9pm — a plum time slot following its highly-ranked parent series where it spent each of its first five seasons — to Monday nights at 10pm where CBS had been having some trouble despite the success of the comedy block leading into it.

For the first time, NCIS: Los Angeles — which had been a Top 10 show for each of those first five seasons and peaking at #4 the previous season — fell out of the Top 25 altogether to rank #27 for the 2014-2015 TV season, the show’s sixth.

For the 2015-2016 TV season, the show’s seventh, NCIS: Los Angeles crept back into the Top 25 with a 24th place ranking (though its viewership decreased from 11.72 million L+7 viewers to 11.11).

But this latest move was concerning for a few reasons:

1) The older-skewing show was going into its eighth season and this could be seen as a way to kill the show as aging series become increasingly more expensive to produce despite typically declining ratings — which NCIS: Los Angeles had experienced with the last time slot move.

2) Madam Secretary had Top 15 success there each of the last two seasons and there was no other reason I could see to move it to 9pm except to use its success at 8pm to justify a cancellation of NCIS: Los Angeles should it not do just as well or better in the time slot.

3) NCIS: Los Angeles had only served as a 9pm show and a 10pm show, so I wasn’t sure if or how it would or could work as an 8pm show — even though its parent series has for the entirety of its fourteen seasons thus far.

But TV viewership can be a funny thing.

We won’t say that we were wrong, but the show’s L+SD viewership has risen an incredible 25% from last season — 7% above Madam Secretary in the time slot last season (which itself is down 15% from last season in that same metric in its new 9pm time slot). Some of that increase is due to football overruns and carryover from 60 Minutes at 7pm (which recently had a season high in viewership) — so we’ll see what happens when football ends.

But all this having been said, a time slot switch might still be in order. Perhaps return Madam Secretary (which would flow better out of 60 Minutes) to 8pm and push the resurgent NCIS: Los Angeles back to 9pm to help lift Elementary at 10pm (which has never been a hit but could certainly use an increase from the 5.22 million viewers it’s currently averaging this season).

Then at least we can say for certain that we were right.

Sources: TV Series Finale for L+SD ratings information and Spoiler TV for L+7 ratings information.
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