Which is fine, as millions were entertained by celebrities in a circus, or celebrity-seekers borrowing babies, nannies, wives and dance steps, or being catty on the catwalk or in "the household," among other venues. What those millions weren't watching were any Emmy Award nominees, unless on DVD or TiVo, as summer prime time's escapist network fare is a fairly good indication of the blurring between broadcast and cable on a cultural, if not often a commercial basis.
Results not surprising
Indeed, it shouldn't shock the networks that of the 11 shows nominated for either best TV drama or comedy, only six are big-budget broadcast shows, while five are from their cable competitors (or cousins, given today's media conglomerates).
Sure, two scripted series did run last night -- CBS's repeats of "Criminal Minds" and "CSI: NY," which each delivered a 2.0/6 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, with "CSI" winning its timeslot.
But neither had the cultural cache of best drama nominees such as "Mad Men" on AMC or "Damages" on FX, the two dramatic breakthroughs of this year's nominees, as they are the first two shows from basic cable to crash what is usually an HBO and network TV invite-only list.
Both CBS police procedurals combined with "Big Brother" (1.8/6) as the network finished second for the night with an overall 1.9/6.
Remaining all reality
Otherwise it was all reality: Fox won with a two-hour "So You Think You Can Dance," which stepped all over its rivals with a 3.1/10. NBC (1.8/6) ended up third with a repeat and original "Baby Borrowers" (1.3/4 at 8PM ET and 2.4/7 at 9PM), followed by a 1.6/5 for "Celebrity Circus."
ABC (1.5/5) was fourth with "Wife Swap" (1.3/5), "Supernanny" (1.3/4) and an original form of reality TV -- a network newsmagazine -- "Primetime: Crime" (1.9/6).
And the CW (.4/1) finished fifth (again) with "America's Next Top Model" (.5/2) and "The Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious" (.4/1).
Low-cost TV expected in summer
Of course, low-cost reality TV is to be expected given the broadcasters' business model -- especially in the summer. It's a genre the networks know well, with seminal shows that have often become the comedic and dramatic narrative of our times.
Only here, too, someone forgot to tell the Emmy voters. Because cable (and even PBS!) is catching up, garnering six of the ten available nods spanning the two best reality show categories.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: Take a nostalgic trip -- and save on gas -- by enjoying two summer blockbusters on the small screen, as AMC screens "Jaws" and "Jaws II."
Friday: CBS's "Flashpoint" premise of hostage negotiators may not be novel, but it is the only original scripted series of the night.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
"Flashpoint"'s performance wasn't flashy in its program premiere last week. But it did win its timeslot, representing the steady, underrated ratings performances of similar CBS dramas like "NCIS" and even "The Unit," which means it could end up more than a summer series.
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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.