A few days ago Variety's John Dempsey reported increasing anxiety among the cable channels who rely heavily on off-net procedurals.
"Without a Trace failed to score with mass audiences," said Dempsey. Since the Without a Trace launch a year ago in the 7p slot on TNT, the series has averaged only 1.73 million viewers. 60% of the show's viewers are over the age of 50. Cold Case has also dropped by close to a third in total viewers and in key demos.
Variety also reported last year that TNT was nervous about a Law and Order ratings slump.
Says Dempsey: "The industry is citing the declining fortunes of off-network procedurals as the reason cable networks are reluctant to pony up for off-net series including Criminal Minds, Bones, Numbers and Boston Legal."
One of the problems not addressed in Dempsey's article: the excessive, gratuitous violence against women. During the Summer 2005 Television Critics Association press tour, critics cornered CBS' Criminal Minds producers for featuring a caged woman and an "anger excitation rapist." Not long after, USA Today ran a story in which viewers complained about CSI's kinky subject matter.
(Caveat: it's too bad that CBS' Numbers' reputation is stained by association. Numbers is relegated to the Friday night graveyard, so the series is underexposed and there might be quite a lot of viewers still to be tapped. The premise is unique, the character development is appealing and the series doesn't engage in the same level of graphic violence.)