MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- There was a time when the ticking watch of CBS's "60 Minutes" and three competing "big events" -- specials or made-for-TV movies -- defined Sunday viewing. But these venerable video institutions were vulnerable last night, as ABC's reality and dramas beat NBC's "Miss America Pageant" and CBS's "60 Minutes" and Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie to finish first in the Nielsen ratings race, delivering a 3.1/8 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic.
Fox -- whose unconventional comedic approach of all animation also defies the old order -- was second with a 2.5/7, followed by NBC (2.3/6), CBS (2.0/5) and the CW (.3/1) (all based on Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings, with final live-plus-same-day data released tomorrow).
Not that all the Sunday winners are new programs, of course. Several series have been around for years, but beat TV institutions that probably have little resonance to relatively younger viewers. ABC's "America's Funniest Home Videos" (hitting its 2.2/7 season average) beat the hidden cameras of "60 Minutes" (down 40% to a 1.8/6), as well as the camera-ready smiles of contestants in the "Miss USA Pageant" (1.4/4), which was off 18% from last year.
Although Fox and the CW, two networks formed to challenge the old order, didn't fare much better: Fox delivered a 1.1/4 for a rerun of "American Dad" and a 1.6/5 for a new episode of "King of the Hill," while the CW's "Jericho" barely registered with a .2/1 (neither did its lead-out, theatrical "At First Sight," which was only seen by a .3/1).
The next hour, however, showed how old broadcast dogs can learn new tricks: CBS's reality series "Amazing Race" (3.0/8) won, beating not only the second half of the pageant but a repeat of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (2.2/6), the only hour ABC did not win. Fox tied in the first half hour with "The Simpsons" (skidding 17% to a 3.0/9), but only 77% stayed sitting for the program premiere of "Sit Down, Shut Up" (2.3/6), Fox's latest animated sitcom. (And those remaining probably wondered why ...)
Fox rebounded at 9 p.m., as "Family Guy" (3.8/9) and "American Dad" (3.0/7) indexed at 90% and 100%, respectively, of season averages. The hour was won by ABC's "Desperate Housewives," although it, too, was down 15% to a 4.7/11. (Lead-out "Brothers & Sisters," 3.3/9, which also won, was off only 5%, however.)
ABC's dramas represent a dramatic departure from Sunday of a decade or so ago, and CBS's Hallmark marks show why: Despite good reviews, "The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler" was off a third compared to the most recent Hallmark movie, January's "Loving Leah," and 46% behind "Front of the Class," the December offering. Of course, it performed better -- finishing a close second in households -- with more traditional TV viewers, not only because of its heroic Holocaust story line but because Hallmark Hall of Fame movies were an institution, often producing some of the best TV of the year. But with relatively younger adults 18 to 49, it finished fourth, with a 1.5/4.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Monday: Like competition? It's in abundance tonight, be it with high-tops (NBA playoff doubleheader on TNT), skates (NHL playoffs on Vs.), cleats (Yankees vs. A's on ESPN) or dancing shoes ("Dancing With the Stars" on ABC).
Tuesday: PBS's "Poisoned Waters," a "Frontline" examination of the cleanliness and safety of America's waterways, may make you need a drink. But it's the type of essential reporting that makes PBS the leader in broadcast journalism.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: CBS tries to psych out the competition by running "The Mentalist" in "CSI: Miami's" 10 p.m. time slot. It should easily beat ABC's "Castle" and NBC's "Medium," but will it out-deliver "CSI: Miami" as well?
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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.