Audience awareness shouldn't be an issue. The Emmys, beyond honoring the best in this most commercial of all media forms, also serves as a commercial for TV itself. It follows last month's Olympic-sized audiences on NBC seeing (endless) tune-in ads. And now football on all four networks serves as a promotional platform that spans generations and gender.
Football fans fill the couches
This week's top 10, for instance, had five football telecasts, including games, post- or pre-games on the list, topped by ESPN's over-the-top 41-37 shoot-'em-up between the Cowboys and the Eagles, which Dallas won. It was the most-watched program in basic-cable history, topping last year's Patriots-Ravens game, and delivered this week's top spot with a 7.8/21 rating and share in the demo.
Second place went to NBC's "Sunday Night Football," whose matchup between the Steelers and Browns was less flashy, but still flush with a 7.2/19. Two other football fragments on NBC made the top 10 as well: "Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick" (fifth, 5.3/15) and the pre-game show "Football Night in America," which scored an eighth-place 4.4/13.
CBS and ABC also worked their way into the top 10 by programming pigskin: CBS's "Post-Gun" was third with a 6.1/18. And ABC, which would have been first had it not passed "Monday Night Football" to Disney teammate ESPN, was seventh with NCAA football, as the "Saturday Night Football" game between USC and Ohio State delivered a 4.6/15.
Fox sticks to the script
The other football network, Fox, didn't have any prime-time spillover from its Sunday-afternoon gridiron grid. But the network made the top 10 the old-fashioned fall way, with new programs ("Fringe," sixth with a 5.1/13) and returning favorites ("House," 5.6/16, good for fourth, and "Bones," ninth with a 3.3/10).
What's missing? Well, NBC's "Biggest Loser" rounded out the top 10 with a 3.2/9. But more importantly -- the biggest winners -- the comedies and dramas nominated for Sunday's Emmys.
Of the "Outstanding Dramas," only "House" is on both the top 10 and nominee list. ABC's "Lost" can't be found until 2009, and the network's other nominated drama, "Boston Legal," averaged a 2.3/6 for original episodes last season, making it unlikely to pierce the top 10. "Dexter" 's split personality split time between Viacom's Showtime and CBS last year, but is also more a critical than commercial success. And basic-cable breakthrough "Damages" on FX will return around the same time as "Lost." AMC's "Mad Men," the other basic-cable show nominated, is currently running, and despite recent ratings gains, it delivered a .7/2 on Sunday night.
The divide isn't as dramatic for comedies, as the return of NBC's "The Office" and "30 Rock" and CBS's "Two and a Half Men" are comedic contenders not just for Sunday's stage when the envelope is opened, but for the weekly award of top 10 ratings. The other two nominees, HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Entourage" are more niche hits.
In TV, hope springs eternal, but especially in fall. So it's time for the networks to suit up, get in the game, and score with shows that are critical and commercial hits that rival ratings for the other fall season, which will continue to blitz the top 10 all the way until the Super Bowl.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: The contentious campaign season has provided much more heat than light from cable commentators. But that doesn't mean political punditry can't be enlightening, at least as long as it's from the erudite David Brooks and Mark Shields, a regular Friday feature on PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."
Saturday: Georgia takes on Arizona State on ABC's "Saturday Night Football," and "Saturday Night Live" takes on Georgia, Russia and all the other points of political debate in this year's election.
Sunday: Watch, and honor, the best prime-time performances of the year (beyond the Cowboys and Packers on NBC's "Sunday Night Football") as the annual Emmy Awards run on ABC.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Emmy Award ratings could be a cultural canary in a coal mine indicating how excited viewers are about the new fall season's offerings after the winter of discontent that split the season and a summer schedule of reruns and reality.
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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.