But as "America's Got Talent" (and several other reality series) showed, the amateurs also had their say: NBC's two-hour premiere of contestants seeking 15 minutes of fame delivered a 3.7/10 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, which followed a 2.1/7 for "Deal or No Deal" to give NBC a third-place 3.1/9.
'Truth' comes out ahead
Fox (3.2/9) was just in front of NBC, as "Moment of Truth" (2.4/8) and "Hell's Kitchen" (4.0/11) helped keep the heat on the more professional -- and expensive -- performers on ABC and CBS. And the CW got into the amateur act with a rerun of "Beauty and the Geek" (.4/1), which was followed by a "Reaper" repeat (.5/1) as the net's nightly average netted out at a fifth-place .5/1.
Not surprisingly given the competition, "America's Got Talent" dipped 16% from last year's debut, and "Kitchen" cooled 20%. But running against two classics -- celluloid and the Celtics -- the ratings indicate that for a significant number, the cult of the amateur can be nearly as compelling as the pros.
Indeed, "Hell's Kitchen" tripled the 1.3/4 rating of the American Film Institute's three-hour summer salute to memorable movie moments, which was nearly a third less than last year's AFI offering. Of course, 2007's "100 Years, 100 Movies" didn't have to run up against what seemed like the 100th time the Celtics and the Lakers have met in the finals, which Boston won, convincingly, 131-92 to take the series four games to two.
ABC won convincingly, too, as the game delivered a 6.9/20, which when teamed with the 2.1/7 for pre-game "NBA Countdown" and a .9/3 for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" won the network a nightly Nielsen championship of 4.6/14.
Ratings bounce back
While the last game was a laugher, the finals still represented a rebound for the NBA, as ratings were up 64% compared to last year's Cleveland Cavaliers vs. San Antonio Spurs matchup. The six pre-games, which ran at 5:30 Laker time, delivered a much lower 1.9/7. And while "Jimmy Kimmel Live" only averaged a 1.0/4, the prime-time platform may have breathed some new life into his late-night audience, as it's safe to assume some of the viewers were new.
As for those viewers who prefer prime-time performances more along the lines of a summer-camp skit, they're in luck: Except for the exceptional athletes in July's Major League Baseball All-Star Game and August's Summer Olympics, it's mostly amateur night(s) from here on out until September.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Wednesday: The falling dollar may make that summer dream trip to Tuscany impossible, but you can still escape to Italy with Turner Classic Movies' monthlong tribute to Sophia Loren.
Thursday: Although CBS's "Swingtown" is likely to last about as long as some of the hookups it portrays, it has an addictive, soapy TV tonality that makes it easy escapism.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
The drop-off may not be as dramatic as the 14% decline from Sunday to Monday, but Wednesday prime-time performances should shrink after Tuesday's NBA Finals/AFI/"America's Got Talent" lineup.
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NOTE: A share is a percentage of TV households that have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all TV households, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. households 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.