Nine out of the top 10 shows were reality series, and the only scripted sitcom to make it, CBS's "Two and a Half Men," which delivered a 2.9/8 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic for an eighth-place tie, was a rerun.
Cable more adventurous
Unlike human behavior, however, summer stagnation isn't necessarily a natural TV phenomenon. Indeed, the broadcasters' cable competitors (or cousins, in most cases) use the networks' summer stupor to roll out first-run episodes of their signature shows, like AMC's highly anticipated return of "Mad Men" on July 27.
But the networks aren't as artistically ambitious, at least after Memorial Day. Sure, a few new scripted series have run, including tonight's debut of CBS's "Flashpoint." But most of the promotional push has been for lower-cost -- and often lower-concept -- reality TV.
In at least one case, network TV's dog days was literal. Except maybe in this case it should be dog nights, as CBS began its prime-time search for "The Greatest American Dog" on Thursday night, which delivered a 2.1/8, according to the Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings, which would put it near but not at the top of the pack at No. 17.
'Bachelorette' has many admirers
As for the top 10, the dogs were more metaphoric, such as the hounds vying for the hand of "The Bachelorette" (No. 4, 3.4/10) and the post-game (this really can't be called romance, can it?) "Bachelorette: After the Final Rose," which was No. 3 with a 3.7/10.
And then there were the cute pups (the toddlers, not the teen contestants) on NBC's "Baby Borrowers," which delivered a 2.9/8 to tie for eighth place.
And the "dog days" phrase also brings to mind the heat outside, which some tried to beat by watching the heat inside the stressed-out restaurants of Fox's "Hell's Kitchen," which was hotter than ever, capping off its highest-rated season yet with a finale delivering the No. 1 spot with a 4.2/12.
Other contestants trying to beat the heat -- and each other -- may prefer a cool pool, but the fame-seeking/dignity-defying participants of ABC's "Wipeout" have to settle for the inevitable mud bath as they slip and slide on the show's absurd obstacle course. But it's running the ratings gauntlet quite well, with Tuesday's third episode (4.0/13) the highest-rated show yet, suggesting that unlike the hapless players, it may be competitive in future seasons. It was No. 2 for the week.
And while "Wipeout" is clearly the alpha dog in ABC's Tuesday tandem of adaptations of Japanese reality shows, it's bringing "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" (No. 10 with a 2.7/7) along with it.
Of course, there's always a place for fun, frivolous escapism during summer's dog days (Adam Sandler movies aren't released during December's Oscar push, after all). So it's fitting that both Fox's high-energy "So You Think You Can Dance" and NBC's "let's put on a show!" distraction, "America's Got Talent," made the list. "Dance" once again two-stepped its way on the list, as Wednesday's episode ranked No. 6 with a 3.2/10 and Thursday night's fast-affiliate delivery was right behind it at No. 7 with a 3.0/9. "America's Got Talent" was No. 5 with a 3.4/9.
Next week marks the ides of July, which is about the midpoint of summer. Soon network TV's dog days will yield to a dragon, one of the many iconic images that will be seen on the streets of Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Will fall season strike out?
Right after, NBC plans to launch its new fall season a bit earlier, to take advantage of the quadrennial promotional push. Its broadcast brethren will generally follow suit. That is, if the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers can come to terms. Friday morning's news that the union leaders deemed the producers' "final offer" unacceptable may once again bring Hollywood to the brink.
And it may make summertime's network TV dog days bark into the fall.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: CBS's hostage-negotiator drama "Flashpoint" may be a bit heavy for summer. And especially a summer Friday night. But it is a rare new summer series that doesn't resemble a talent show at summer camp, so it's worth a try.
Saturday and Sunday: The Dow's down and the price of oil and Iranian missiles are up. Need some weekend escapism? Try a princess and some beauty queens by checking out "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" on ABC Saturday night and "The Miss Universe Pageant" Sunday night on NBC.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
CBS's "Big Brother" premiere Sunday night has a big opportunity, as it is the only non-repeating program running in its timeslot. Its performance will gauge how the reality franchise about young people is aging.
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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 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.