MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Katie Couric, the morning-news-turned-evening-news anchor, got her shot at prime time last night. The results were to be expected, as "CBS Evening News" finished fourth in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic with a 1.1/3 rating and share, just below the average for the regular 6:30 p.m. time slot.
But the payoff may be in the longer term, as CBS seizes upon the media moment when viewers may be reconsidering Couric. Following the surprise success of Bob Shieffer -- whose avuncular style was an audience antidote to the high-strung Dan Rather -- Couric and "Evening News" lost viewers, and she reportedly almost lost the job. But by using the same skills she honed on NBC's "Today" -- having a friendly, familiar chat -- she became one of the campaign's most consequential TV journalists after her intriguing interview with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
And the "Evening News'" lead-out program, an old episode of "The New Adventures of Old Christine," was even lower-rated, delivering a 1.0/2. Of course, so was every other program at 8 p.m. that ran against Fox's "American Idol," which was up 6% from last week to a 10.2/26. NBC's "Knight Rider" was the only other original episode to run during the hour, and it only managed to match its season-to-date average of a 1.9/5. ABC ran a "Lost" repeat (1.8/4), and the CW aired a rerun of "Privileged" (.4/1).
Truth and lies
Although not the "speak truth to power" kind of journalism that "CBS Evening News" aspires to, the next two hours were in a way about variations on veracity as well. At 9 p.m., Fox's "Lie to Me" (4.4/10) lost 10% of last week's premiere performance, as "Lost" won the time slot for ABC with a 4.9/12, just below last week's season premiere. But Fox's and ABC's rivals had a hand in helping both shows retain high ratings from their prominent premieres last week, as CBS's "Criminal Minds" (2.5/6), NBC's "Law and Order: SVU" (1.9/4) and the CW's "90210" (.4/1) were all repeats.
Giving the night symmetry before the late local news, all three 10 p.m. dramas were fictional shows about seeking the truth. ABC's "Life on Mars" (2.1/6) orbited out of its former Thursday time slot to debut to 22% less in the demo on Wednesday. CBS ran a rerun of "CSI: NY" (2.3/6), which was off a third from its regular level.
That left the top spot to the granddaddy of truth- and justice-seeking police procedurals, NBC's "Law and Order," which locked up 13% more than usual to win with a 2.6/7. Indeed, the forensic frenzy is in full force on network TV, as it is the season's one genre generating dependable ratings, including the only new hit, CBS's "The Mentalist." Perhaps these shows are tapping into viewers' desire for order in a disorderly world, which would be an interesting media/sociological phenomenon Katie Couric herself may want to examine.
She may not, however, want to look too closely at CBS's overall Wednesday average, as her network finished fourth, with a 1.9/5, well below Fox's first-place 7.3/18 and just behind NBC's 2.1/5. ABC was second, with a 2.9/7, while the CW finished fifth, with a .4/1.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: With repeats of ABC dramas and NBC sitcoms, check out a new episode of CBS's "CSI" with new top cop Laurence Fishburne.
Friday: Most movies worth watching about sports are about baseball, boxing or horse racing. But football has a few good flicks too, including "Rudy" (8 p.m. on AMC), which kicks off Super Bowl weekend.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Ratings fell for Fishburne's first week. They should recover against a "Grey's Anatomy" repeat.
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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.