The first Grinch was embodied by the faceless National Bureau of Economic Research, which confirmed what everyone who has been to a Kmart or opened a 401(k) statement already knew: The country is in a recession, and has been since the last time "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" ran on ABC.
The second appeared on ABC. And like the economy, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" -- as well as lead-in, "Shrek the Halls" -- slipped significantly. Sure, both won their timeslots, but "Shrek," which delivered a 3.3/9 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, and "Grinch" (3.8/9), were down 54% and 44%, respectively, in the period. (All based on Nielsen fast affiliate ratings and shares, with final live-plus-same-day data yet to be released.)
Then, just like how a stock market slide in New York triggers the Nikkei in Tokyo, back to back episodes following "Grinch" of "Samantha Who?" (2.2/5, 2.1/5) were at season lows. But "Boston Legal" (2.3/6) stabilized, rising 10% from season-to-date levels as the network slinked to a second-place 2.7/7.
First place went to CBS, which ran reruns. (True, it was the 42nd year of "Grinch," but it's a "classic," not a repeat.) Sitcoms "The Big Bang Theory" (2.5/7) and "How I Met Your Mother" (2.8/7) were second in the 8 p.m. hour. At 9 p.m., "Two and a Half Men" (4.1/10) won the timeslot and was the highest-rated show of the night. "Worst Week" (2.2/5) had just that, losing 46% of its lead-in and drawing the fewest viewers in the demo yet. A second showing of drama "CSI: Miami" (3.0/8) was also down 19% from season levels, as the network finished with an overall 2.9/7.
CBS's reruns and ABC's double run of "Samantha" should have created conditions for "Heroes" at 9 p.m. to come to NBC's rescue, but the 3.6/9 was still 14% below the season average. Lead-in "Chuck" (2.5/6) hit its season level but "My Own Worst Enemy" at 10 p.m. performed like yesterday's stock market after the recession designation was announced, down to a series-low 1.6/4. For the night, NBC was third with a 2.6/6.
Fox was fourth with a 2.2/5, as two shows that don't exactly evoke the holidays, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (2.2/6) and "Prison Break" (2.2/5), were near season levels.
The CW finished fifth with a 1.2/3. The network's problem is really at 9 p.m., as "Privileged," which has the privilege to run after "Gossip Girl" (1.5/4), loses a third of its lead-in audience.
As both visits from the Grinch point out, these are tough times, both for the macro economy and the media economy, as even TV classics fail to be a stimulus.
But the country -- and network TV -- will get through these recessionary times. As Dr. Seuss himself said, "He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming. It came! Somehow or other it came just the same!"
WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: Not quite as classic as "The Grinch" -- let alone Rudolph or Charlie Brown -- but ABC's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" should keep you in the spirit.
Wednesday: My, how they grow up so fast. The wee ones can take in "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" at 8 p.m., follow up with "Grammy Nominations Concert Live" at 9 p.m., and then get comfortable for "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" at 10 p.m., all without changing the dial from CBS. (Actually, this suggested lineup is for demonstration purposes only. Please do not try this at home.)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Are the scrooge-like ratings for "The Grinch" a precursor of holiday special coal in the networks' stockings this year?
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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.