“Bones”: One of TV’s Most Solid Utility Players

bones_finalchapter_webFOX’s Bones will be launching its 12th and final season on Tuesday, January 3, 2017 — going out as FOX’s longest-running drama series EVER.

In the annals of TV history, the show will be tied for seventh with CBS’s Criminal Minds (2005-present), the WB/CW’s Supernatural (2005-present), ABC’s NYPD Blue (1993-2005), CBS’s Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996) and the original Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980) on CBS as the longest-running drama series.

The show’s ratings peaked at #27 for the 2010-2011 TV season (its sixth) when it was the #1 scripted FOX show and the #2 FOX show overall behind American Idol. For every other season, the show ranked among the Top 5 FOX programs — save for last season when it was #6.

And with seven different time slots on five different nights (out of a possible fifteen on seven as local FOX affiliates program the 10pm hour — usually with news), it has been a solid utility player for FOX — often called upon to launch a new show or help stabilize a night.

Below is a season-by-season rundown of the time slots Bones has held and its lead-in or lead-out for those time slots: 

Bones premiered in the fall of 2005 on Tuesdays at 8pm as a lead-in to House — ceding the time slot to the American Idol performance show in early 2006 and moving to a prime lead-out position on Wednesdays at 9pm following the Idol results show.

The show retained this time slot throughout its second season, leading into the new series Justice for the fall of 2006 and the Idol results show for the winter/spring of 2007.

For its third season, shortened on account of the Writer’s Guild Strike, Bones returned to its original time slot on Tuesdays at 8pm — leading into House for the fall of 2007. In the winter/spring of 2008, the show was moved to Mondays for the first time — airing at 8pm and once again leading into House.

Bones returned to Wednesdays at 8pm for its fourth season in the fall of 2008 — leading into the struggling ‘Til Death. For the winter/spring of 2009, the show was moved to Thursdays for the first time — airing at 8pm and leading into the wholly incompatible Hell’s Kitchen.

Bones held that 8pm time slot on Thursdays for its fifth season and the first half of its sixth — leading into the far more compatible Fringe until the winter/spring of 2011 when it shifted back to 9pm as the lead-out to the Idol results show once again.

The shortened seventh season (2011-2012) started in November once The X-Factor retracted to one hour — at which point Bones served as the singing competition’s lead-out on Thursdays at 9pm. The show returned in the spring, but to Mondays at 8pm — leading into the final episodes of House.

Bones retained this time slot for its eighth season — leading into the short-lived The Mob Doctor for the fall of 2012 and the new Kevin Bacon vehicle The Following for the winter/spring of 2013.

With the exception of a couple of months at midseason when it was sent over to Fridays at 8pm as the lead-in for the low-rated comedy hour of Raising Hope (then in its fourth and final season) and Enlisted (one of TV’s most unfortunate cancellations), Bones aired on Thursdays at 9pm for most of its ninth season  — leading into the new Sleepy Hollow for the fall of 2013 and then into The Following for the spring of 2014 after the short-lived Almost Human was cancelled.

Bones returned to Thursdays at 8pm for its tenth and eleventh seasons — leading into the short-lived Gracepoint in the fall of 2014, the short-lived Backstrom in spring of 2015, Sleepy Hollow once again in the fall of 2015 and Jon Cena’s American Grit in the spring of 2016.

Tuesday nights at 9pm is a new time slot for the concluding series and it will be leading out of the new series The Mick starring Kaitlin Olson of FX/FXX’s long-running It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. (Unless it has something to do with the local affiliates late news, why the much higher-rated Bones isn’t leading into New Girl is beyond us.)

Bones was never buzzy and it was never an awards magnet; it was just a quiet show that kept under the radar. And after an incredible twelve seasons airing opposite top-ranked shows like NCIS on CBS, The Voice on NBC and Dancing with Stars on ABC, it will go out as one of the most solid utility players of any series on any broadcast network in TV history.

CBS, NBC and ABC would be wise to look toward developing more utility players like Bones and previously CBS’s Mike & Molly (standard crime procedurals and broad, multi-camera comedies) to fill programming holes and stabilize a night than just looking in vain for the next big hit.

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