First was Fox's debut of "The Moment of Truth," the lie-detector reality show that revealed the veracity of viewers, as well as contestants, as the breakout premiere performance (a 9.5 rating and 24 share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic) proves once again that what many people say they want isn't what they watch.
A miss with both TV and social critics, "Moment" was a hit, with the video voyeurism of cold cash (and even colder hearts) No. 8 on this week's top 10 list. How long "Moment's" moment will last is yet to be seen, but it was the highest-rated debut since last year's "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader."
'Idol's' moment of truth
In a way, it was also a moment of truth for "Moment's" lead-in, "American Idol," particularly to see if last week's soft premiere ratings were a broadcast blip or the beginning of a trend. And while it still may be too early to tell, week two was down as well, from both week one and last year. Tuesday's version, for instance, delivered a fifth-place 10.5/27 and Wednesday wasn't too far behind with a 9.7/26, good for a sixth-place tie. But those numbers fell 15% and 16% compared to last week, and 16% and 27% compared to last year's week two ratings.
Of course, "Idol" still wallops the competition, often drawing more in the demographic than its rivals combined. But its erosion increases the pressure for Paula, Randy and Simon to come up with the next Reuben, Clay and Carrie, or at least a few uniquely compelling competitors to recapture some of the pop-culture zeitgeist.
But whatever concern Fox may have over the slight slippage is countered by the overall numbers for "Idol's" genre, reality TV, which all the networks are counting on to hold together a strike-stricken season, as well as to play an ever-increasing role in the next one (whenever that is). In this account, it was a moment of truth for reality TV itself and, in general, the genre delivered.
Reality trumps dramas
Through Wednesday's national ratings (Thursday's will be available later this afternoon), reality subgenres have the top three spots in average ranking, below sports, but well above most dramas. Weight averaging "Quiz Give Away" (like "Moment of Truth"), "General Variety" (like "American Idol") and "Participation Variety" (like NBC's "Biggest Loser") reveals reality TV earned a 3.9/10 rating and share for 16 total telecasts, nearly doubling dramas, which delivered a 2.0/5 for 34 telecasts, and laughing past sitcom reruns, which averaged a 1.7/4 for 12 episodes.
Whether the strong reality delivery is enough to wrangle writers back to the bargaining table is unknown, but an unofficial mid-February deadline has developed, in order to allow the Academy Awards not to suffer the same press conference kabuki that befell the Golden Globes Awards, which may be remembered as the cultural low point of the writers strike.
Wednesday's nominee announcement was already glum enough, with gloomy, moody movies sharing a split-screen with gloomy, moody stock exchanges. But at week's end, the markets had rebounded, which is something Hollywood hopes to do if the strike is settled and TV can market the movies with a rousing Oscar celebration.
On the road to the Super Bowl
Finally, the week's most dramatic moment of truth was on the gridiron. And like network TV itself, the New York Giants suffered a midseason slump, so few bothered with Peyton Manning's little brother, except to criticize him. But Giant quarterback Eli Manning struck a blow to the Green Bay Packers (and one for little brothers everywhere) and he, not Peyton -- last year's Super Bowel MVP -- is going to the big game.
And that big game Feb. 3 should have big numbers, as the Boston-New York rivalry is renewed, only with a role-reversal, with the unbeaten New England Patriots standing in as the over-privileged Yankees, vs. the Giants, which have assumed the scrappy Red Sox role.
The dramatic game Sunday night dominated the ratings, with Fox's telecast of the NFC Championship delivering a first-place 20.1/46. And the way Nielsen keeps score, the game's "Post-Gun" (second, 16.3/36), "Kickoff" (third, 15.0/39), "Pre-Game" (9.7/26, tied for sixth) and a "Post-Game" (ninth, 9.2/22) were also top 10 telecasts. And earlier, CBS's "Post-Gun" of the AFC Championship was fourth with a 14.2/38 and the "Post-Game" was 10th with a 7.8/21.
All of these NFL pre-, post- and in-games have been great for Fox, CBS and NBC since September. But with the Super Bowl two weeks away, those networks -- as well as all of the media form -- will face its own moment of truth, as next week will be the first to feel the full effects of the writers strike, with no new kickoffs of football games or big new series.
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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 a TV. In order to report ratings on a timely basis, all the ratings listed here reflect a Nielsen Live number. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of a commercial minute, live-plus-3 viewing basis.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For daily rating updates, see rashreport.com.