Breakout Summer Hit? Not Yet

Rash Report: This Year's Crop of Reality Hasn't Really Bloomed

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Every summer, every network hopes for a breakaway hit -- a game-changer -- like previous summer series that crossed into the regular season. Recent examples include Fox's "American Idol," CBS's "Survivor" or ABC's "Dancing With the Stars."
Fox's 'So You Think You Can Dance' had its penultimate performance last night, posting a 3.1/10 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic to give Fox an easy win over CBS, ABC, NBC and the CW.
Fox's 'So You Think You Can Dance' had its penultimate performance last night, posting a 3.1/10 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic to give Fox an easy win over CBS, ABC, NBC and the CW. Credit: Fox

With the possible exception of ABC's "Wipeout" -- which wiped out every competitor in its timeslot, but could get wiped out itself against tougher TV in the fall -- it didn't happen this year. But the networks seem to have settled nicely on creating reality shows that are the TV equivalent of escapist movies in the Cineplex or summer songs on the radio -- easy, breezy and yes, occasionally cheesy.

Would-be stars come out
NBC has focused the formula for "America's Got Talent," the "let's put on a show" talent search. And Fox pivots perfectly from mega-hit "American Idol" to summer hit "So You Think You Can Dance," which had its penultimate performance last night, posting a 3.1/10 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic to give Fox an easy win over CBS (1.7/5), ABC (1.4/5), NBC (1.2/4) and the CW (.3/1).

Conversely, NBC took a different TV tack with its reality experiment "The Baby Borrowers," in which teen couples learn life stages by "borrowing" babies, toddlers and beyond. Last night NBC journalist Hoda Kotb held an interactive "Town Hall" meeting called "The Baby Borrowers: Lessons Learned." Hopefully the kids -- and the audience -- learned some valuable life lessons. But the programming primer may be that a reality show that ends with a journalist may not quite suit summer tastes, as "Baby Borrowers: Lessons Learned" delivered a 1.2/3, fourth in its timeslot.

ABC's admirable jump into serious journalism also had a tepid response, as a repeat of CBS's "CSI: NY" (1.7/5) beat "Primetime: China Inside Out: Bob Woodruff Reports" (1.5/5). The documentary hosted by the former ABC News anchor did beat the anchor of NBC's drama lineup, the original "Law & Order," which aired a rerun that delivered a 1.3/4.

Reality O.D.
Another lesson learned is that while reality is really here to stay, and repeats are an expected and accepted part of summer TV, combining them simply doesn't work: Reality repeats on ABC ("Wife Swap," 1.4/5, and "Supernanny," 1.4/4), NBC ("America's Got Talent," 1.3/4) and the CW ("America's Next Top Model," .4/1, and "The Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious," .3/1) all underwhelmed.

Of course, for every lesson learned there's another one to be remembered. Specifically, scheduling, as CBS's "Greatest American Dog," the type of reality show that seems to have the TV tonality that has made other summer reality series seasonal successes, had the misfortune or running against "So You Think You Can Dance," which doubled "Dog" 's 1.5/5 rating and share.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: It's the last "Dance," or the last judgment of the dancers on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance."
Friday: Finally, it's 8/8/08. Let the games begin!

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
The whole media industry will be trying to gauge viewers' response to the Summer Olympics and to determine if the buzz over Beijing -- in all its history and mystery -- will be a big draw.

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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.
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