Grammy Awards, 'Idol' Hit Right Ratings Note

Rash Report: But America's Appetite for Music TV Waning

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Fifty years ago, the Grammy Awards were held for the first time. A quarter century later, "I want my MTV" was the marketing mantra for the new network (its first video was The Buggle's "Video Killed the Radio Star"). Twenty-five years hence, the 50th anniversary of the Grammy Awards showed how MTV, as well as Fox's "American Idol," just may have killed the TV star, too.
Amy Winehouse performing her hit 'Rehab' at the 2008 Grammy Awards.
Amy Winehouse performing her hit 'Rehab' at the 2008 Grammy Awards. Credit: AP

Or at least wounded it. Even though CBS's award show was the third-highest-rated show of the week, with a 6.2/16 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, it was the third lowest-rated ever.

Musicians like British singer Amy Winehouse and her well-publicized battle with the bottle (and other substance abuse) get substantially more play than their play lists, as they are now often more known as pop personalities than musical artists. This isn't to say there isn't real talent producing awe-inspiring and award-winning music -- but many of those artists got their Grammy awards before the televised portion. In today's celeb-obsessed culture, many noted musicians are now pop personalities first and artists second.

Ahead-of-the-curve MTV and sibling VH1 picked up on its fans finding the rock 'n roll lifestyle more compelling content than rock and roll itself. The cable nets have become cultural chameleons, with the original programming premise -- music videos -- now only comprising an average of 4.5% of MTV's and 14% of MTV 2's schedule, according to data supplied by the network.

Instead, MTV and VH1 favor rapper Flavor Flav's "Flavor of Love" and Tila Tequila's "Shot of Love." And just as last generation's music videos have yielded to today's reality shows, the 1970s manufactured rock clan has morphed into this decade's manufactured rock star lifestyle clan: Out is the "Partridge Family." In are Audrina Partridge, Heidi Montag and Lauren Conrad of MTV's "The Hills," the hit spin-off of 2004's breakout "Laguna Beach." What nearly all of these successful series have in common is trading videos for vicariousness, as young female viewers find the young women stars both accessible and aspirational.

Those descriptors are also at the heart of Fox's monster music hit "American Idol," which again finished at the top of the hit parade this week. Tuesday's two-hour top-rated version delivered a 10.8/27, and Wednesday's follow-up came in at No. 2 with an 8.5/24 (and following that was "Moment of Truth," which finished fifth with a 5.6/14). These numbers were for the second phase of the competition, which fittingly for today's music culture is referred to as "going to Hollywood," as opposed to Nashville, Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis or any other city with a signature "sound."

But "Idol's" "sound" continues to be fainter this year, with Tuesday's and Wednesday's versions down 10% and 25%, respectively, from last year's week five. To be sure, "Idol's" demographic domination still extends down to teens, with "Idol" averaging a 9.2/29 and 8.5/27 in the 12- to 17-year-old demo so far this year. But the music industry and "Grammy" network CBS should be more worried, as they each depend on teens to buy music and watch awarded artists. MTV's "The Hills" (1.2/4), "Shot of Love" (1.3/5) and "Flavor of Love" (1.4/6) drew nearly a third as many reens as "The Grammys," which delivered a 3.8/12 teen rating and share.

"Idol's" erosion may just may be the natural life cycle of a hit show, as the riff of real people getting a shot at celebrity is still going strong with most reality shows, including three others that made the top 10 this week: "Deal or No Deal" on NBC (eighth with a 4.1/11) and "Survivor" on CBS (4.5/13 in last night's Nielsen "Fast Affiliate Ratings"). Joining them was a show featuring not wannabes, but has-beens, as the D-List celebrities judged by Type-A Donald Trump in last night's "Celebrity Apprentice" on NBC made the top 10 with a ninth-place 3.7/10. Sticking with reality, ABC's counter-programming Grammy strategy was a two-hour "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," which ranked sixth for the week with a 5.1/12.

The cultural combination of star-struck contestants and the writers strike resulted in eight of the top 10 being unscripted series. But it still was a great week for scripted shows. Not because of the sole sitcom (CBS's "Two and a Half Men" tenth with a 3.7/9) and drama (ABC's "Lost," No. 4 with a 5.7/15, according to the "Fast Affiliates") on this week's list. But, rather, the end of the writers strike, which means back to work immediately and back to the Top Ten eventually for many scripted 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 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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