Comedy Is Hard

Rash Report: Sitcoms Still Not Cracking Top 10

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Here's this week's Rash Report, in which one brave media buyer, John Rash of Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, dives into a week's worth of broadcast TV ratings in order to illuminate those that delivered, and those that didn't. Look for the Rash Report every Friday at Ad Age's MediaWorks.
Soon-to-be-ending 'King of Queens' was ther highest-ranked comedy this week -- at 11.
Soon-to-be-ending 'King of Queens' was ther highest-ranked comedy this week -- at 11. Credit: CBS

MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Comedian Al Franken recently announced his bid for a U.S. senate seat here in Minnesota. Based on what people watched this week on TV, he doesn't stand a chance. If you consider the tragic state of comedy on network prime time, it seems to indicate the public may now hold TV comics in the same regard they do used-car salesmen, politicians and -- ahem -- ad executives.

At least that's the sense from reviewing this week's top 10 in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, which featured plenty of blood, sweat and tears, but very few laughs. Indeed, analyzing the 98 programs since last Friday, only 24% were the once dominant sitcom and those sunk to a 2.5/7 average rating and share, beating only newsmagazines (7% of the programs with a 1.7/6) and a two-movie average of 1.5/5.

Drama gets the last laugh
Reality TV, representing 18% of the programs, came out on top in average ratings with a 3.6/11. Dramas, however, had the last laugh with 49% of the schedule and an average of a 2.7/8, as the scheduling ubiquity and audience ascendancy for these two genres has become the programming story of the decade.

Indeed, what this decade lacks is a seminal sitcom that defines it, as has happened in every other 10-year span. Think of the 1950s, and you think of "Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best"; "Laugh-In" during the '60s; "Mash" and "All in the Family" in the '70s; "Family Ties" and "The Cosby Show" in the '80s; and "Seinfeld" in the '90s. The first seven years of this century has yet to define a breakout hit that can jump from the cover of Television Week to Newsweek. And the closest a sitcom even got to the top 10 this week was CBS's homage to Brooklyn's Ralph and Alice Kramden, the underrated tale of another borough couple, "King of Queens," which tied for 11th with a 4.5/11, but has been canceled by the network.

About this week's blood sweat and tears that made up the top 10? The blood could be found from shots from good guys (Fox's doctor drama "House," which was No. 4 with an 8.1/21 rating and share) and bad guys (the criminals hunted on CBS's "CSI," which delivered a 5.5/14, based on last night's Nielsen "Fast Affiliate Ratings," and "CSI: Miami" [5.0/14], ranked sixth and seventh, respectively).

Getting sweaty
Sweat, conversely, was generated by the hot light from either the tropical sun on ABC's "Lost" (eighth with a 4.8/13); the judges glares on Fox's "American Idol" (No. 1 and 2 for this week's double elimination round, as Wednesday and Tuesday delivered a 10.3/27 and 9.1/27) and 10th-ranked "Dancing with the Stars" on ABC (4.6/13); or the perspiration even superheroes show on NBC's "Heroes," which came in ninth at 4.8/12.

And the tears are never far away in prime-time's (melo)dramas, with ABC's two-hour "Grey's Anatomy" (9.0/24, Nielsen "Fast Affiliate Ratings") and "Desperate Housewives" (6.0/16) delivering a third and fifth place, respectively.

Of course, in about a week the networks get another crack at it, as each gets down to business during the upfront presentations. The serious matter of funny business would help broadcasters and their marketing partners alike, as a smash sitcom could give a jolt to network next fall and syndication in time for the next decade.

As for Al Franken, if he isn't a hit at the ballot box, maybe he can return to network TV. His 1998 sitcom, "Lateline," delivered a 5.2/14 in the demo before being term- limited on NBC, which this week would have been the highest-rated sitcom and the seventh-highest-rated prime-time program.

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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. Ad deals are usually negotiated on the basis of live-viewing figures, though Nielsen Media Research and the broadcast networks release viewership statistics that include live-plus-same-day playback on digital video recorders. All the ratings listed here are live.

John Rash is senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For daily rating updates, see rashreport.com.
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