Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," for example, channels not only "American Idol" but an upbeat pop-music summer hit. And the show has become a hit in its own right, with both the Wednesday contest and Thursday elimination routinely making the weekly top 10 list in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. Wednesday night it delivered a 3.0/9 rating and share for a two-hour version, which gave Fox a decisive demographic win for the night.
Right after at 10 p.m. ET, ABC News offers a different kind of reality escapism. Well, not escapism from the news, actually, but from an analysis of it, as "Primetime: Crime" avoids any broader contextual look at the roots and ramifications of crime in favor of individual cases. A similar media morphing has had success on CBS with "48 Hours," which is now "48 Hours Mystery." ABC, too, seems to have found a formula that works, as "Primetime: Crime" won its Wednesday timeslot with a 2.1/6.
The news division, of course, could have used the time for extensive coverage of Sen. Barack Obama's world tour or to examine the world woes he and Sen. John McCain seek to redress from a Pennsylvania Avenue address. But instead, "Primetime: Crime" followed Tuesday's "Primetime: Family Secrets," another news program that seems like a network TV version of a crime novel. This may disappoint news purists, but not news viewers, as both nights ABC was tops at 10 p.m. (Of course, it helps to run against reruns, which CBS and NBC supplied with "CSI: NY" and "Law & Order," which delivered a 1.7/5 and 1.3/4, respectively.)
Other summer flings with escapism had mixed results: NBC ran two episodes of "Baby Borrowers," with a 1.1/4 for an 8 p.m. repeat and a 2.0/6 for an original at 9 p.m. While the first-run was second in its timeslot, it was off 26% from its season average, which was one of the reasons for NBC's fourth-place 1.5/5 finish.
'Big Brother' still going
CBS has established (or imported, in this case) an escapist franchise in its own right with the 10th season of "Big Brother." It delivered a 2.1/7 to finish second at 8 p.m., followed by a repeat of "Criminal Minds," which finished third at 9 p.m. with a 1.7/5.
For the night, CBS (1.8/6) eclipsed ABC (1.7/5) for second, as ABC ran repeats of "Wife Swap" (1.4/5) and "Supernanny" (1.4/4) before "Primetime: Crime." Both shows struggled in their time periods, perhaps because they were reruns (the CW faced similar challenges, as second showings of "America's Next Top Model" and "The Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious" delivered a .4/1 and .3/1 to combine for an overall .3/1).
But then again, for "Wife Swap" and "Supernanny" maybe it was subject matter. Because in this summer of being riveted by -- or escaping from -- world news, the problems going on in people's living rooms may hit just a bit too close to home.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: Need a laugh? NBC has "Last Comic Standing," which like all stand-up, can be uneven. So the best bet for laughs is on TCM, with Jack Lemmon in "The Out-of-Towners."
Friday: Pilloried by the critics. Ignored by most viewers. And now exiled to Friday night. Was CBS's "Swingtown" so bad? No. But judge for yourself at 10 p.m. ET.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The ratings for "Swingtown" and the show it swapped timeslots with, "Flashpoint," which have been encouraging for CBS.
~ ~ ~
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.