To write about Castle's ratings, I would like to steal from the famous start of Rudyard Kipling's poem "If": "If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…"
But let's make it: If you can basically have the exact same ratings for five seasons / When most other network shows are collapsing…
Because that's basically Castle's success story as it heads toward its fifth season finale on May 13. When Castle made its debut on ABC as a midseason show in March 2009, the ratings were just eh. It ended its first season with 10.5 million Live+7 viewers (meaning, viewers who watch the show within seven days) and a 2.8 among 18- to 49-year-olds. It's essentially held steady since then; I won't bore you with each season's averages, because they're so repetitive. As of Monday's episode, its average for the season is 12 million total viewers and a 2.6 in 18 to 49 (in Live+7).
Castle is an interesting case, then, of a veteran show that has become a hit by not eroding, and even growing a little, especially when compared with the wreckage around it. In the 2008-09 season when it premiered, ABC's lineup still featured Desperate Housewives and Lost; its big hopes for the season were Pushing Daisies and Dirty Sexy Money. Fox's American Idol, of course, was the No. 1 show on television by a mile, and each episode would bring in more than 20 million viewers. It was a different television world.
Castle has just been steady. A bubble show for renewal at first, and then always performing better in its Monday at 10 time slot when lead-in Dancing with the Stars was on, it wasn't clear at first how many people were watching Castle on purpose, even as it gained confidence, building off of star Nathan Fillion's exuberant charm to create a show with a sweet (as opposed to frustrating) will-they-or-won't-they love story between Castle and Beckett (Stana Katic), light but clever mysteries of the week, and a zippy ensemble both at Castle's work (at the precinct with Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever) and home (with his mother, Susan Sullivan, and daughter, Molly C. Quinn).
But now it's clear. Monday night, Castle drew 10.6 million viewers and got a 2.0 in 18 to 49 in Nielsen's overnight ratings. (Both will grow in Live+7.) Last week, it grew out of Dancing with the Stars in 18 to 49; yes, DWTS skews old, but for a 10 p.m. show, growing out of the lead-in is rare these days. It also beat its time-slot competition, NBC's Revolution, for the first time this season, and it consistently beats Hawaii Five-0 on CBS. In last week's broadcast television ratings, Castle finished in 10th place among total viewers and 16th place among adults 18 to 49. Yes, the new normal for network shows is quite low. But should Castle fans care? No!
This season has been about Castle and Beckett finally being in love and in a relationship. They'll have some bumps, of course, as creator Andrew Marlowe has foretold. I can't predict what will happen — though I'm sure they will be happy again soon enough.
But I do feel sure I can guarantee exactly how many people will be watching them as they go along their way.
Update: Minutes after I posted this story, I was reminded by my Twitter buddy David Loehr that both Pushing Daisies and Dirty Sexy Money technically made it into second seasons because their first seasons were curtailed by the writers' strike of 2008-09. They were then canceled. It's complicated, but I cut the words "neither of which made it to Season 2" from that sentence to avoid unnecessary confusion.