At 8 p.m., Fox's forensic-focused "Bones" was up 18% over its season average, easily beating the return of "Pushing Daisies," which fell in half from last fall's program premiere. "Daisies," the candy-coated love story that lost so much media momentum during last year's writers strike, delivered a 2.0/6 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, a third lower than "Bones" ' 3.2/9. Second in the hour was the second week of NBC's "Knight Rider" (2.4/7), which performed right about even with last week's series premiere.
Indeed, it seemed the softer a show's focus, the harder it was to get an audience: CBS's "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (2.0/6) and "Gary Unmarried" (2.2/6) were close to premiere levels, while the soft lighting and hard bodies of the CW's "America's Next Top Model" (1.9/5) drew 9% fewer viewers compared to last week.
Maybe U.S. audiences just aren't in a mode to celebrate American accomplishment, given all the country's bad news, as after the slip for "Top Model," NBC's "America's Got Talent" season finale fell as well. The 3.3/8 was 15% lower compared to last year's last episode. But that at least beat the season premiere of prime-time soap opera "Private Practice," the "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff that dropped off 37% to a 3.3/8.
The hour's winner was CBS's "Criminal Minds" (3.9/10) which locked up 11% more viewers than last fall's premiere. Fox countered the police procedural with " 'Til Death," which despite its title isn't part of the forensic frenzy dominating demos on Wednesday, but is a sitcom. It ran back-to-back episodes because of the untimely death of quickly canceled "Do Not Disturb," which was poorly reviewed and lightly viewed. The move helped, as "Death" improved 15% over "Disturb" 's last episode. But each finished fourth in its timeslot, with a 1.7/4 at 9 p.m. and 1.5/4 at 9:30 p.m.
Finishing fifth in the 9 p.m. hour was a rerun of the CW's "90210" (.9/2). But even if it had been a first-run, the rich and beautiful might be losing their appeal. That was also the case at 10 p.m., as "Dirty Sexy Money" (no, not on CNBC, but ABC) fell faster than the Nasdaq, down 31% from last year's premiere to a 2.4/7.
It lost to the gritty "CSI: NY" (4.1/11), which gave CBS the nightly win with an average 3.4/9. ABC and NBC tied for second with a 2.6/7, with Fox fourth, posting a 2.4/6, and the CW finished fifth with a 1.4/4.
'Lipstick' loses luster
NBC may have finished higher than second had it not been third at 10 p.m., when it, too, showed a program celebrating how awful affluence can make prime-time protagonists feel. Credit-crunched viewers probably can't relate, which is probably why "Lipstick Jungle" was down 29% from last February's first showing to a 2.0/5.
Of course, as tonight's debate ratings will probably show, it's not that viewers aren't curious about lipstick. But they're more focused on the self-described "pit bull with lipstick," hockey mom -- and maybe vice president -- Gov. Sarah Palin of Wasilla, Alaska, who along with Delaware Sen. Joe Biden will try to explain how they plan to prop up the markets -- and perhaps people's moods, as well.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: For different reasons, both vice presidential nominees cause controversy when they talk too much. And the moderator, Gwen Ifill, has moved from news reporter to news maker, as she is accused of talking too little, at least about her upcoming book. In other words, Thursday night's vice presidential debate is truly must-see TV.
Friday: After the hardball of politics, go for the real thing, as the White Sox play the Rays at 6 p.m. and the Red Sox angle for a win against the Angels at 9:30 p.m. on TBS.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Higher ratings for the veep debate than round one of the presidential debate between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.
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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.