But the network TV big tune in wasn't due to the event meant to honor the medium, the Emmy Awards, but to what really passes as event TV nowadays: the passes, punts and kicks of NBC's "Sunday Night Football," which delivered a 7.8/19 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET. (Final live-plus-same-day numbers released Tuesday may show an increase once the full game is accounted for. All ratings reflected in this version of The Rash Report are based on Nielsen fast affiliates.)
The ratings spike for the Cowboys vs. Packers game, combined with a 3.5/10 from the pre-game show "Football Night in America" (7 p.m. to 8 p.m.), allowed NBC to score a first-place 6.7/17.
That was well above ABC's overall 3.2/8. Of course, it should have been a night when red carpet stars aligned to give ABC a dominant demographic victory. But just like the awards themselves, it wasn't ABC's -- or network TV's -- night, as only 10 of the 28 statues presented went to commercial broadcasters, with NBC winning four, ABC three, CBS two and Fox only one.
Cable, on the other hand, had a significant -- if not seminal -- night, especially with wins from basic cable for key categories such as Best Drama (AMC's "Mad Men"). This was on top of HBO's haul of 10 statues, led by several awards for "John Adams," the kind of story about our nation's founders that used to be found on the nation's airwaves.
Instead, the networks presented presenters from reality shows, as hosts Howie Mandel of NBC's "Deal or no Deal," Ryan Seacrest of Fox's "American Idol," Tom Bergeron of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" and Jeff Probst of "Survivor" were Exhibit A on why the networks won so few Emmys. Their programs may be relatively higher-rated, and the costs lower, but so are the concepts, at least compared to the more compelling cable winners such as "Mad Men," its cable cousin "Breaking Brad" and FX's "Damages."
Whether the damage will affect the new season starting tonight remains to be seen. But few saw the Emmy Awards, traditionally an advertisement of commercial TV, as the show's initial ratings suggest they were the lowest-rated ever. The demo delivery was 3.8/9, which would be down 12% from last year. Further proof that viewers were seemingly interested in the NFL's artificial turf than the red carpet was the poor showing of "Jimmy Kimmel's Big Night of Stars" (1.2/4), which dimmed more that 40% from last year's pre-show on Fox.
As for rival networks, most took a pass on competing with the live competition on NBC and ABC. CBS had a football overrun, making all individual program ratings approximate. But the combination of the pigskin as well as "60 Minutes," two repeats of "Cold Case" and a pre-11 p.m. portion of "Criminal Minds" delivered a third place 3.2/8.
Fox ran reruns of its animated sitcom lineup to deliver a fourth-place 2.2/6, as "American Dad" (1.9/6) led into three showings of "The Simpsons" (2.0/6, 2.3/6 and 2.5/6) and an hour of "The Family Guy" (2.5/6).
And the CW, which won no awards, won few fans last night as well, as repeats of "One Tree Hill" (0.6/2), "Privileged" (0.4/1) and "America's Next Top Model" (0.8/2) combined for an overall 0.6/2.
Of course, the Emmy Awards honored last year's achievements and if ever the networks needed a do-over it was last year's strike-struck season. And tonight should be a better night for the networks (it's never too early to start campaigning for next year's Emmys!) as NBC, on the heels of a summer box-office dominated by the Dark Knight and other superheroes, returns with "Heroes," and CBS and ABC bring back fan favorites such as "Dancing with the Stars" and "Two and a Half Men."
But watch out for another cable contender, ESPN's "Monday Night Football," which won the night -- and last week -- even without a New York team playing, such as the Jets tonight. Because if last night's Emmy Awards and audience are any indication, the cable gains are not only qualitative, but increasingly quantitative as well.
WHAT TO WATCH: Monday: Finally! New episodes of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" and "Boston Legal," CBS's sitcom lineup, including new series "Worst Week Ever" as well as drama "CSI: Miami," and, most notably, NBC dedicates three hours to the return of "Heroes."
Tuesday: More returning series, including NBC's "Law and Order: SVU," CBS's "NCIS" and "Without a Trace," join the program premieres of ABC's "Opportunity Knocks" and CBS's "The Mentalist."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: To what degree are the record-low Emmy numbers indicative of low ratings for the new fall season?
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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.