Steve Carell, The Office, ...
Credit: Chris Haston

Now that the writers’ strike is over, networks are airing new

episodes of their top shows once again. But early ratings returns

indicate that viewers might have left some programs for good.

Serialized dramas are suffering the most, presumably because of their complex story lines: Desperate Housewives just logged its four lowest-rated episodes of the season, while Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty hit season lows on May 1 (15.3 million and 7.9 million, respectively). Even Gossip Girl

couldn’t parlay considerable anticipation into a ratings surge: Its

first two episodes after the three-month-long writers’ walkout each

garnered roughly 2.5 million viewers, under the series’ average from

last fall.

On the other hand, comedies, at least initially, seemed immune to the slump: The Office, How I Met Your Mother, and Scrubs all posted season highs their first two weeks back, and Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory

were strong, too. “There was obviously a lot of pent-up demand for

comedy,” says Mitch Metcalf, NBC’s head of scheduling. “Closed-ended

shows generally have been doing better as they’ve come back.” That, or

the laffers benefited from faster production schedules that allowed

them to get on the air sooner, without much competition. But they, too,

eventually succumbed to diminished ratings. Facing new installments of Grey’s and CSI, The Office dropped from its season high by 21 percent on May 1, while 30 Rock posted its lowest-rated episode this season. The lesson here? Depriving viewers of their shows is no joke. —Tanner Stransky

addCredit(“Chris Haston”)