But beyond that, one of the theories for the broadcasters' continued sales success is that despite all the changes in the media landscape and the challenges the networks face, they still offer the most powerful programming platform, even if the programs are part of the increasing cable-to-network cultural exchange.
Thinking out of the cable box
Monday night provided a test case, as two programs with origins in cable showed up on network TV: "The Bill Engvall Show," which jumped from TBS to CBS; and "Nashville Star," a country-music version of Fox's "American Idol" that moved from the USA Network to its corporate cousin NBC.
Both were competitive in their timeslots with rival networks -- and both were rated higher than their already-successful scheduling on their home networks: "Bill Engvall" not only had the right TV tonality to fit right into the CBS sitcom lineup, but delivered a 1.9/6 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, right below lead-out "How I Met Your Mother" (2.2/7). And although it didn't win its timeslot, as "Two and a Half Men" (3.3/9), "Rules of Engagement" (2.9/8) and "CSI: Miami" (2.3/6) did, "Bill Engvall" did perform over 70% better than its normally scheduled TBS airing and helped CBS win the night with an overall 2.5/7.
NBC's "Nashville Star" (2.2/6) performed even better, beating contestants beating each other up on lead-in "American Gladiators" (2.0/6). And while NBC finished third with an overall 2.1/6, "Nashville's" star surely rose at NBC Universal, as the premiere's performance on network TV was 175% higher-rated than its most recent run on USA.
'Mole' goes deeper
ABC finished fourth with a 2.0/6, as a show, "The Mole" (1.6/5) -- whose original host, Anderson Cooper, has made the opposite TV transition, becoming a star on cable news network CNN -- fell 16% from its debut last week. "The Bachelorette" (2.2/7) did a bit better, but it fell 12% from the season-to-date average.
Fox ran reruns of "Bones" (2.2/7), which won its timeslot, and "House" (2.7/7), a program evocative of the edgy, character-driven dramas that have become the hallmark of much of summertime cable prime time. For the night, Fox finished second with a 2.4/7.
And the CW finished fifth, as repeats of "Gossip Girl" (.5/2) and "One Tree Hill" (.3/1) led to a ratings result of .4/1 for the night.
The programming dog days of summer could use more cable-to-network crossover, as returning hits like Lifetime's "Army Wives" -- which hit a ratings record in its second-season premiere -- continue to blur broadcast's edge. But based on last night's laboratory, network TV still has all the ability to maintain commercial supremacy. The challenge, with schedules dominated by repeats and reality, is to retain its cultural one.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: Assuming the Lakers show up, so should you, as the NBA Finals resume with Game Three on ABC.
Wednesday: With NBC's "Celebrity Circus" the only network premiere, it may be time to start watching ABC's "Men in Trees" -- even if it is the season finale.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
The difference between "fast affiliate" ratings for ABC's lineup on NBA nights, which can differ dramatically from the final "live plus same-day" numbers. Of course, part of this is because the games start before East Coast kids have to be tucked in, and end as their tuckered dads fall asleep on the couch.
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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 a 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.