It's a Great Pumpkin of a Ratings Night

Rash Report: Like Linus, Viewers Seek Security

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" was only on for one of the cumulative 16 hours of network programming last night. But some of its key themes seemed to permeate prime time on each network's schedule.
It's all about Linus.
It's all about Linus.

As several generations know, despite Charlie Brown getting marquee mention, it's really a story about Linus -- Charlie's friend who is rarely seen without his security blanket, which gives him comfort in an often uncomfortable world. In some ways, TV viewers act the same way, with prime-time patterns a proxy media security blanket of viewers sticking with tried (and sometimes tired) and true stars and genres.

Leachman eliminated
Stars are of course the whole point of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," which eliminated TV and movie legend Cloris Leachman en route to delivering a 3.9/9 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, which was 8% above its season average.

It tied CBS's "Mentalist," which is a new show but which comes smartly wrapped in the series security blanket of a familiar CBS star -- Simon Baker -- in an even more familiar construct, the police procedural.

"The Mentalist" beat Fox's "Fringe," the season's other top new series that has a spooky sensibility befitting Halloween. It scared up a 2.3/6, but that was down 41% from last week due to the serialized sci-fi series airing a rerun.

"Fringe" was preceded by "House," which has given Fox itself the security of one of TV's most dependable scripted series and stars (Hugh Laurie). It matched its season average with a 5.4/13, winning the 8 p.m. hour as Fox won the night with an overall 3.9/9.

Military boosters
CBS's second-place 3.4/8 matched the rating for military law drama "NCIS" and ABC's "Great Pumpkin." Which is fitting, as both have their element of military fantasy: "The Great Pumpkin" 's Snoopy takes a flight of fancy as a World War I flying ace battling the Red Baron in his Sopwith Camel, while "NCIS" offers non-nuanced G.I. Joe jurisprudence, with each case wrapped up in an hour (with about 16 minutes from your friendly sponsors).

"Without a Trace" continued the forensic frenzy for CBS at 10 p.m. and was up 7% from its season average with a 2.9/8.

"Trace" was second in its timeslot, losing to NBC's security blanket, one of the three derivations of "Law & Order." Tuesday's "SVU" version locked up a 3.5/9, which was 5% below its season average. NBC started the night with a two-hour edition of weight-loss reality show "The Biggest Loser: Families" (they must have gotten the good candy, as opposed to the rocks Charlie Brown keeps getting in his trick-or-treat sack). "Biggest Loser" gained 3% above its season average to a 3.2/8, as NBC ended the night with a third-place 3.3/8.

As with any "Peanuts" holiday special, there are side plots in "Great Pumpkin," including Violet's Halloween party, which has a list of the kids "to invite" and "not to invite." The same kind of peer paring is writ large with teens and young adults in several series on youth network the CW, including "90210" (1.6/3) and "Privileged" (.9/2), which combined had the network finish fifth with a 1.3/3.

'Stone' can't get off the ground
As for ABC, "Dancing" 's partner at 10 p.m. inspires insecurity, as a third-place season-low 1.9/5 for "Eli Stone" made it a programming rock in the network's sack of shows. As with several sophomore scripted series, it continues to struggle to find an audience after the strike-struck season last year.

Overall, ABC finished fourth with a 3.1/8, its average held down by 11% erosion from last year's running of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

But that's OK. The Halloween holiday viewing ritual will be back next year, uniting generations of kids and grown-up kids who used to watch it. After all, unlike most of TV's transient schedule, "Great Pumpkin" has been running since 1966 because like its likable Linus, it embodies what he values most -- sincerity.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Wednesday: Two big pitches tonight: At 8 p.m., Sen. Barack Obama tries to close out the election with a half-hour telecast on multiple networks. Right after, the Philadelphia Phillies try to close out the World Series over the Tampa Bay Rays by winning the rain-delayed Game 5 of the World Series.
Thursday: Tina Fey is back on NBC's Thursday night, but not as Gov. Sarah Palin on "Weekend Update Thursday," but as Liz Lemon on the season premiere of "30 Rock."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Debate ratings were lower than what voter registration would indicate is extraordinarily high interest. Will the Obama campaign's infomercial similarly under-deliver, as decided Democrats don't need the reinforcement and decided Republicans tune out (or to Fox News)?

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.
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