Ad Age’s annual charticle on commercial ad rates may reveal that ABC’s FlashForward is commanding the richest, per-30-second ad rate out of all new shows this season … but it ain’t no According to Jim. Say what? Just take a look at the ad rates from only five years ago when Jim — yes, that benign, so-so rated comedy that stayed on the air for an astonishing seven seasons — was generating some $204,212 per 30-second spot for ABC. Obviously, the market was a lot better in those days — you know, when everyone was working for bloated companies while furiously making bids on overpriced houses and charging way too much on our high-interest credit cards. But, the rates commanded by the Big Four networks were staggering, nevertheless. Consider these stats, also from Ad Age: CSI was generating roughly $374,231 per 30-second spot (today, it’s down to $198K), Grey’s Anatomy on Monday was at $323K (today, its around $240K) and Joey (remember Matt LeBlanc’s Waterloo?) was earning more than $390,00 during its ill-fated run on Thursdays. Even The Apprentice was taking in north of $400,0o0 per spot on Thursdays — a rich rate the networks are unlikely to see today. “Will we get back to those days?” asks Chris Booth, the president and chief operating officer of Starcom, a media-buying firm. “Probably not.”

Though network execs caution that Ad Age’s annual charts are rough estimates based on the upfront buying season each spring, they concede the numbers aren’t far from the truth. “The audience has gone down. It’s as simple as the advertisers paying for an audience,” says one Big Four network executive.”If the numbers fall, then the price you pay falls, too.” And the networks are definitely down this season: Fox is posting the biggest decline in viewers so far this season versus five years ago (23%) while NBC is down 22%, ABC (2%) and CBS (4%). To help make up for the ad deficit, the networks have obviously found other ways to generate cash, either through product placement and/or additional commercial ad time (and yes, that means shorter shows). For more information about what the current lineup is generating in ad rates, click here.