MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- By the time many are reading this, the Manhattan to Montauk migration will be in full swing, as marketing mavens and ad execs beat a path to the beach for the last three-day weekend of summer. Similar getaways to cabins and cottages will take place all over, as Tuesday brings the end of summer break for the school kids and office adults.
This effort at leisure leaves the meaning of Labor Day as an afterthought for many. But there's at least a little curiosity about earning one's bread with those wielding remotes: Programs celebrating -- or at least exploring -- work and the working man (and despite the record number of working women, it's usually men in these shows) have worked relatively well on network and cable.
Capturing the culture
Yet despite it being the new gilded age of hedge funds and trust funds, it's blue-collared colleagues, or at least those not behind a desk, who seem to do better at capturing the culture. So, despite the esteem of Emmy awards, NBC's "The Office" delivered a 2.3/7 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic last night, according to the Nielsen "Fast Affiliate Ratings," which would place it second in the time period and 15th for the week. Most tellingly, Donald Trump's catchphrase was used on him as NBC eventually canceled his "Apprentice" after ratings fell from a 10.1/25 when the show was a breakout hit to a 2.7/7 last season.
TV's blue collars generally come in two hues -- the light blue worn by law enforcement and the dark, sweat-stained ones worn by those who make life possible for -- and even entertain -- white collar workers.
Some of the media manifestations of this occurred in this week's top 10 shows. Programs about gritty cop work have been a rare bright spot in a dim summer of reruns and reality. CBS's "CSI," "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: NY" were fourth and tied for fifth and 10th this week with a 3.2/9 for "CSI" in the "Fast Affiliates." "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: NY" garnered a 2.8/8 and a 2.6/7, respectively. And CBS's other Thursday cop caper, "Without a Trace," had a 2.8/8, which ties if for fifth.
Like law enforcement, another profession requiring taking an oath and working in stressful situations also has its heroes wear blue -- but in this case, it's surgical scrubs, as the medical drama "House" on Fox tied for tenth with a 2.6/7.
As with doctors, it's hard to call a pro football player blue collar (unless it's part of the home uniform). But the summer sweat suffered by 300-pound linemen in 100-degree training camps have earned the admiration -- if not adulation -- of guy's guy John Madden and millions of NFL fans, giving the players a lunch-bucket image belying their champagne and caviar paychecks. Sure, the money -- combined with too much free time -- is a ticking time bomb for some, but fans so identify with the pro-football work ethic that not even Michael Vick can blow it up. Accordingly, a preseason game on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" was the top-rated show of the week with a 3.3/10.
Indeed, "Sunday Night Football" is the type of TV that a Cleveland guy with horn-rimmed glasses like Drew Carey would watch. And while hosting a game show isn't exactly heavy lifting, hosting two is the closest TV personalities may get to blue collar. Mr. Carey is hosting both CBS's "Price Is Right" and his new "Power of 10," which powered its way into the top 10 with a seventh place 2.7/9.
Of course, as with any worksite, the top 10 has some goldbrickers, guys leaning on their shovels like David Spade of "Rules of Engagement" (ninth with a 2.7/7) and Charlie Sheen of "Two and a Half Men" (3.3/9, good for second). But these two CBS sitcoms may work so well because of the slacker characters' lack of work effort. And the only working going on in the "Big Brother" house is working the angles, but two episodes of the show were third and eighth with a 3.2/10 and 2.7/8, respectively.
Cable's macho men
These relatively low ratings come during a summer when basic cable basically outworked network TV with original programming, so it's not surprising that the Discovery Channel deftly developed this trend with at least three shows: "Dirty Jobs," which gives viewers a look at nasty tasks from the comfort of their couches, is averaging a 0.8/3 this summer. That was matched by "The Deadliest Catch," about Bering Sea crab fishermen. "Ice Road Truckers," which explores the perils of the crabbers' landlubber counterparts in the frozen north, finished its season a few weeks ago, as the macho delivery men delivered adults 18-49 at a 2.0/6 clip, which would have been in the network top 25 this week.
Discovery's ratings for the blue collars and coveralls contrasts with the starched white shirts and slick suits of AMC's "Mad Men," the excellent series about Madison Avenue, circa 1960: Despite barrels of ink spilled over the copyrighters and account execs -- as well as the pitch-perfect mid-century modern recreation of the architecture and attitudes of the time -- "Mad Men's" 0.3/1 average demo delivery is less than half of the grungy guys portrayed on Discovery.
This Labor Day backdrop of how working is reflected on TV is at the center of this week's biggest media story, as well as one on the horizon. First, there's controversy around CBS's upcoming "Kid Nation," as the adult nation (in this case, New Mexican authorities) has inquired about possible violations of child-labor laws in the filming of the reality show. CBS has vigorously defended the show, but it remains to be seen if the ultimate arbiters -- audiences -- are comfortable watching the uncomfortable moments the kids endure.
And the labor storm cloud on the horizon could, ironically, mean more reality shows like "Kid Nation," despite the controversy. That's because the Writers Guild of America contract expires on one of the next big holidays, Halloween, which is a truly scary notion for both network and cable.
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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. Ad deals traditionally have been negotiated on the basis of live-viewing figures, though Nielsen Media Research and the broadcast networks release viewership statistics that include live-plus-same-day playback on digital video recorders. All the ratings listed here are live.
John Rash is senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For daily rating updates, see rashreport.com.