Hope Hangover: Prime-time Shows Underdeliver

Rash Report: After Election Evening, Viewers Turn off TV

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- More bleary-eyed than bushy-tailed after watching election returns Tuesday night, viewers returned to a more normal programming grid on Wednesday. But with prime-time programs lacking the Obama/McCain drama, most dramas, sitcoms and even reality shows underdelivered their season average ratings and shares in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic.
'Dancing With the Stars'
'Dancing With the Stars' Credit: ABC

Of course, it's hard to compete with people dancing in the streets after President-elect Barack Obama's Tuesday's triumph, as "Dancing With the Stars" found out after ABC had to move the Tuesday "results show" due to election results. The Wednesday version delivered a 3.2/9 in the demo, which tied for first place with Fox's "Bones," but is 16% below its normal timeslot average. (Due to Nielsen delays in live-plus-same-day ratings, all data reflects fast-affiliate ratings and shares.)

Following "Bones" was a repeat of "House" (2.7/7), which normally wins households and every demographic distinction on Tuesday nights. Still, it was enough to elect Fox first for the night with an overall 3.0/8, just above close contenders CBS (2.9/8) and ABC (2.8/7).

NBC (1.9/5) was a distant fourth place, as "Knight Rider" was more a low rider, falling 30% to a series low 1.6/4. This put "Knight Rider" in last place in the timeslot, not only behind "Bones" and "Dancing," but CBS sitcoms and even the CW's "America's Next Top Model."

On CBS, "The New Adventures of Old Christine" was down 14% from season averages to a 1.9/5, and "Gary Unmarried" fell 9% to a 2.1/6. Although "Gary" this week out-delivered its lead-in, which is rare in prime time, it probably misses its regular one-week stand with Monday night sitcom "Two and a Half Men" as last night's delivery was 27% lower than its Monday night tryout two weeks ago.

"America's Next Top Model" was up 5% from its season average to a 2.0/6, but lead-out "Stylista" wasn't half as fashionable with the network's young viewers, as it delivered a 1.0/2 to give the network a fifth-place 1.5/4 finish.

At 9 p.m., CBS's "Criminal Minds" locked up 15% fewer viewers than season averages, but still won the hour with a 3.5/9. ABC's "Private Practice" (3.2/8) was second in the timeslot. "Private" was only one of two shows to grow Wednesday, up 7% over season-to-date levels. NBC tried "Life" (2.0/5) in the hour in an attempt to get some sampling for the sophomore series, but it showed 13% less life than last week's "Deal or No Deal."

At 10 p.m., another sophomore drama hoping to get traction, ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money," also posted a 2.0/5, which was 5% lower than its average as the drama finished third. Still, "Dirty Sexy Money" almost tied NBC's "Law and Order," which had its program premiere last night. Indicative of NBC's challenges this fall, it fell 42% from its season premiere last January to a tepid 2.2/6. And its criminal caper rival, CBS's "CSI: NY," let 15% get away, as it notched a 3.3/9.

To be fair, network TV may not be the only media to take a hit after the election euphoria. After all, how many people who lined up Wednesday to buy copies of Extra! editions of newspapers bannering Obama's victory will do the same tomorrow when the headlines read: "Stocks fall 10% in two days?"

Indeed, prime time may be poised for a comeback, as escapist free fare in these increasingly tough times.

Thursday: Miss the election already? NBC offers TV tapering off with NBC's "30 Rock," which features the campaign's essential entertainment figure, Tina Fey, but as lead character Liz Lemon, not VP candidate Gov. Sarah Palin.
Friday: The only Woody Allen film to win best picture, "Annie Hall," runs on TCM.

Tina Fey's post-Palin popularity has soared, but it's still nowhere near Oprah Winfrey, the guest star on tonight's "30 Rock." Will her appearance make it a second straight week of record ratings for the sitcom?

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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.
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