MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The first hour of primetime used to be called the family hour. But there was at least one program last night that fit the bill -- ABC's second seasonal showing of the classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which fell 22% from its first run to a 2.9/8 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic.
Tuesday's ratings-race story still featured families. But the programs were more about the way they now interact in real (or reality TV) life than the way they are often portrayed in scripted series. NBC, for instance, took the family reality route with the season finale of "The Biggest Loser: Families," which won from 8-10 p.m. and was network TV's highest-rated program of the night with a 4.6/12. But it lost nearly half of those watching the weight-loss show with the program premiere of "Momma's Boys," (2.5/7) a show that pits single female contestants against possible male mates, as long as they can get by their moms.
"Momma's Boys," which is about family members who won't go away, lost to CBS's "Without a Trace," which is often about family members who have. It delivered a season high 3.2/9, well above not just "Momma's Boys" but ABC's "Eli Stone," which was off 11% from its season average to a 1.6/4.
Far cry from past family shows
The two versions of families -- either torn apart or unusually close together -- is a far cry from the "Ozzie and Harriet" or even the "Cosby Show" prime-time portrayal that dominated and defined dads and their families on TV. The closest Tuesday version were two episodes of ABC's "According to Jim," (1.8/5 and 1.7/4) whose ratings performance may explain why "Father Knows Best" has undergone a media morphing into "Momma's Boys" and "Without a Trace."
Fittingly, it was nearly a tie between the two portrayals, but NBC won for the night with a 3.9/10 over CBS's 3.8/10. CBS soared early, first by a 21% rise and season-high rating and share for "NCIS" (4.0/11), followed by a 17% spike and series high for its new hit, "The Mentalist" (4.2/11).
Some of the surge for "The Mentalist" was due to its timeslot rival, the season's other new hit, Fox's "Fringe," which was a rerun and received a 49% lower rating than its normal average, to a 1.9/5. Lead-in "House" was halved as well, delivering a 2.5/7 for a repeat as Fox averaged a third place 2.2/6 for the night.
Finishing fourth and fifth were ABC (2.1/6) and the CW (.4/1), which ran repeats of "90210" (.5/1) and "Privileged" (.4/1).
Tonight will have another attempt at family-hour programming, as NBC unwraps its new holiday special "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa."
Of course, given how programming standards are defined this decade, the "new" family hour also has an old episode of the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" on the CW.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Wednesday: Give NBC credit for trying to tinker with holiday tradition by running new Christmas specials. OK, so "Little Spirit: Christmas in New York" and "Greatest Holiday Moments" didn't work out so well. But they didn't have the Muppets! Wednesday's new special does, as "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa" has its program premiere.
Thursday: CBS runs "Million Dollar Password" and Fox counters with "Secret Millionaire." But you'll be richer for watching the original 1971 version of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" on AMC.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: "A Muppets Christmas" to be the one new holiday special that will still be unwrapped years from now.
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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.