MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Grim economic news. Frigid, or freezing, temperatures. And, after the House stopped the DTV delay that had sailed through the Senate after President Obama's urging, soon there will be many homes whose TV sets will have snow to match the bleak Feb. 17 landscape of the Northeast and Midwest. Sunday's Super Bowl couldn't come at a better time, as the nation could use a pick-me-up.
So could the National Broadcasting Company, which will show the game for the first time since 1998, and then use it as a promotional platform for "The Office," a program perfect to help laugh along with (or at) these dark days of pink slips and blue moods.
The Super Bowl and the sitcom will surely lead next week's top ten list of programs in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic. Which will be a welcome outcome for NBC, given its average fourth place 2.0/5 rating and share since last week's list (based on Nielsen live + same day data, with Thursday's fast affiliate average not included). As for this week's list, last night's "Office" was a repeat, delivering a 2.7/7, which would have only tied it with Fox's "The Simpsons" for 26th. Its comedic companion, the justly awarded "30 Rock," also ran a rerun, notching a 2.2/5, which put it in a five program tie for 43rd.
It was that kind of week for NBC, and to some degree network TV, as repeats ruled on many nights due to original episodes being saved for sweeps.
But some original episodes prevailed in primetime, and had ratings to reflect it. Fox, which was first for the week going into last night with a weekly average of a 4.1/11, solidified its lead with a Thursday edition of "American Idol," which if the fast affiliate ratings hold will be ranked third with a 9.2/25. Wednesday's version was first with a 10.2/26, and Tuesday had the number two spot, delivering a 9.8/24. The return of another reality program, "Hell's Kitchen," whipped up a 4.9/12, according to the fast affiliates, which should tie for sixth for the week.
As with previous seasons, Fox's first quarter surge is real. But it isn't all about reality: Dramas helped Fox dominate the list as well, with its hit "House" finishing fourth with a 6.0/15 and "House's" lead-out "24" rounding out the top ten with a 4.3/10. And yet the reality imprint isn't too far away from the dramas, either. Strategic scheduling behind "Idol" (and CBS running a rerun of "The Mentalist") put Tuesday's "Idol" lead-out, "Fringe," in eighth with a 4.7/11. And Wednesday's "Idol" has helped "Lie to Me" (ninth, 4.4/10) be a hit in its first two weeks on air.
Going into last night, CBS and ABC were tied for the week with a 2.4/6 average across their grid, and each will be hit by NBC's gridiron gains. Each ran repeats on key nights -- CBS on Monday and ABC on Thursday -- and accordingly only had one top ten program: CBS's "CSI" will finish fifth with a 5.3.13 according to fast affiliate data, and ABC's "Lost" tied for sixth with a 4.9/12. (The CW's Friday through Wednesday average was a fifth place .4/1).
As with all networks, next season will be key for NBC. Whether Jay Leno lends a hand at 10 p.m. will be dependent on format tweaks and if the show can become water-cooler talk in anticipation of big guest "gets." But it will give NBC the ability to choose fewer programs, which should help create conditions that led to highly lauded (if not always highly rated) shows like "The Office," "30 Rock," "Heroes" and "Friday Night Lights."
At least next week -- if not next season -- should beat this week, when "The Biggest Loser" was NBC's biggest winner, weighing in with a 4.1/10, which puts it in a three way tie for eleventh place.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: Most movies worth watching about sports are about baseball, boxing or horse racing. But football has a few good flicks, too, including "Rudy" (8p.m. on AMC) which kicks off Super Bowl weekend.
Saturday: At least for a weekend, everyone works in marketing and media. CBS kicks it all off with "Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials."
Sunday: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Relative ratings stability, despite two teams from small to mid-markets, showing once again how Super Bowl Sunday is America's most celebrated, secular, unofficial holiday regardless of who's playing.
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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.