But just as often, it's game-over -- even after only one or two episodes.
ABC seems to be experiencing both extremes recently. On Tuesdays, it has the one breakout hit of the summer, "Wipeout," which along with "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" is helping Americans escape these troubled times with Japanese-inspired reality frivolity.
But on Monday ABC saw the opposite extreme, gambling with its latest game show, "Wanna Bet?" It finished fourth in its timeslot with a 1.1/3 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. "Wanna Bet?" ran right after another new reality contest facing long ratings odds, "High School Musical: Get in the Picture" fell 18% from its Sunday start to a 0.9/3. And "The Mole" burrowed itself into third place at 10 p.m. with a 1.4/4 as ABC finished fourth for the night with a 1.1/3.
NBC, too, started the week wagering on reality and also seems out of luck, finishing third with an overall 1.7/5 as "American Gladiators" (1.9/6), "Nashville Star" and "Dateline" (both 1.6/5) all delivered at about average levels.
Reversing the odds, however, were Fox and CBS, which placed their programming chips on reruns instead of the summer's hot genre. Fittingly they tied with a 2.3/7. Repeats of CBS sitcoms "The Big Bang Theory" (1.9/6), "How I Met Your Mother" (2.1/6), "Two and a Half Men" (3.1/9) and "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (2.4/7) led into a second showing of "CSI: Miami" (2.1/6).
Fox fleshed its schedule out with reruns of "Bones" (1.7/6) and "House" (2.8/8), which was the highest-rated show of the night.
The CW, conversely, had the lowest-rated shows of the night, with repeats of "Gossip Girl" (0.6/2) and "One Tree Hill" (0.5/1) combining for a 0.5/2. Unfortunately for the network, its fifth-place finish is about the only sure bet this summer.
WHAT TO WATCH
Tuesday: PBS's "Wide Angle" examines trading carbon credits to help reduce deforestation in Indonesia. (Of course, watching it in air conditioning on a big screen might make one feel guilty, but "Wide Angle" usually proves to be compelling programming.)
Wednesday: Just because there's too much reality TV on, it doesn't mean some of it isn't enjoyable: Fox glides from repeats to reality with "So You Think You Can Dance."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
After a tough two nights, an ABC comeback with "Wipeout" and "I Survived a Japanese Game Show."
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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.