Familiarity Breeds Content

Rash Report: The New Fall Season Is Here!

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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.
No. 1: Grey's Anatomy
No. 1: Grey's Anatomy Credit: ABC

MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Familiarity, it is said, breeds contempt. But it also breeds content -- programming content -- according to the top 10 during network TV's premiere week. That's because instead of the shock of the new piercing prime time's collective conscience, it was familiar fare that dominated the ratings this week, with even those new shows showing up as top-rated having their roots in previous programs.

Two of these legacy programs having legs featured either cleats or dancing shoes, as NBC's "Sunday Night Football" was third with a 7.6/20 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, and several snippets of pigskin (Fox's 5.5/18 for its five-minute "Post Game" and NBC's 5.4/16 for a ten-minute "Pre-kick") officially ended up in the Top 10 as sixth and seventh as well. ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," meanwhile, had a strong three-episode start, with Monday's kickoff in eighth with a 5.4/14.

'House' and 'Heroes'
Poorly rated reruns have recently wilted away the core constituencies for prime-time dramas, but new episodes perked right back up. Fox's "House" (fourth with a 7.0/18) debuted stronger than last year's premiere and NBC's "Heroes" was fifth with a 6.5/15 (a figure based on Tuesday's "Fast Affiliate Numbers" -- NBC and Nielsen will eventually claim a higher number based on Saturday's double-run, a new TV technicality which was looked on less than heroically by rival nets).

As for the new series, after a summer replete with repeats and reality, novelty would seem to be a necessity. But the top two new shows have either their concept or construct in the '70s: NBC's new version of "Bionic Woman" plays as female empowerment, with the new Jaime Sommers (U.K. import Michelle Ryan) more a cyber Sydney Bristow (of ABC's canceled "Alias") than the more vulnerable original, played by Lindsay Wagner. But it's seemingly with the times, as it won its time slot with a 5.2/14, earning it No. 9 in the top 10, beating another concept from the disco era -- the spin-off -– as ABC's "Private Practice," begat from "Grey's Anatomy," came in a surprise second in the time period and 13th for the week with a 4.7/12.

(Maybe it was the buzz that made "Bionic" perform like a well-built machine, as several studies indicated awareness for it was highest of any new show, but whether viewers return remains to be seen, as it is difficult to discern transcendent trends after just one week.)

Some doctors got roughed up
"Grey's" itself had an 8.7/21, according to last night's "Fast Affiliate Ratings." While that won the time period and the week, it was down 16% from last year, while 9 p.m. competitor "CSI" on CBS was up 8% for a second place 8.0/19 and "The Office" on NBC had 31% better productivity to round out the top 10 at No. 10 with a 5.1/12. The close race is one to watch, but the real winner is network TV, as three top-10 programs slugging it out for time slot supremecy is important on any night, but imperative on network's most lucrative one.

But some shows showed up a lot better than others this premiere week. After a stunted start of "CW Now" and "Online Nation" (0.3/1), CW's "Reaper" (1.4/4) held its "Beauty and the Geek" lead-in. Grimmer were the numbers for the debut of CBS's "Cane" (2.8/8) which were lower than last year's quickly canceled "Smith." The network's "Big Bang Theory" was hardly a whimper, conversely, as the 3.3/9 was up 18% over its lead-in, "How I Met Your Mother."

But the bigger bang ABC hoped to get from "Grey's" lead didn't materialize, as last night's "Big Shots" on ABC (4.1/11 in the "Fast Affiliates") lost 53% of "Grey's" audience and fell three share points in the second half-hour, as perhaps some found the big shots to be big jerks. ABC's other homage to today's gilded age, "Dirty Sexy Money" (3.5/10), was 34% lower than its "Private Practice" lead-in.

Trying to keep up with 'Heroes'
NBC's Monday program premieres, "Chuck" (3.2/9) and "Journeyman" (3.3/9), were designed for program compatibility with "Heroes." Creatively, they have the same TV tonality. But commercially both struggled to establish even half of the "Heroes" worship that was last year's biggest story of the fall season. Wednesday's "Life," however, showed some, as the 3.8/11 was 15% above last year's mediocre "Medium."

Fox didn't debut a new show this week, but canceled one, as off-key delivery from "Nashville" made it the season's first casualty.

Indeed, as America's most accessible art form, prime-time network TV premiere week should be all about hitting the right note and having resonance with viewers and relevance to society. But cultural historians will look back on the two top pop culture events this week -- the free-speech frenzy surrounding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's crazy Columbia University appearance and PBS's un-sanitized look at the gritty greatest generation and the sacrifices made on the war and home front.

'The War'
"The War" didn't show up in premiere week's top 10-rated programs, but will in many critics' top 10 best programs. (Adult 18-49 ratings are unavailable, but household ratings have been strong in several markets.) Documentary film maker Ken Burns had delivered the familiar (fitting for this week) expected excellence of PBS.

But what seemed unfamiliar is that a war -- any war -- was even portrayed at all, as no new show premiering this week had any reflection of what polls indicate is most on voters' -- if not viewers' -- minds, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that's perhaps to be expected, as the escapist fare is in keeping with the familiar pattern of content, if not contentedness, on network TV.

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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. In order to report ratings on a timely basis, all the ratings listed here reflect a Nielsen Live number. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of a commercial minute, live-plus-3 viewing basis.)

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