Sunday night's premiere of "Million Dollar Password" delivered a 2.2/7 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic (according to the Nielsen fast affiliate ratings; final live-plus-same-day numbers aren't available until Tuesday), which made it the highest-rated show in its timeslot.
But that's only 42% of the summer 1999 average of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," the game show that revived ABC and network TV in general -- and Regis Philbin in particular -- as Joey Bishop's former late-night sidekick jumped from daytime with Kathie Lee to prime-time stardom.
Too much of a good thing
The next season jumped 38% from that level, dominating demographically with a 7.2/20. From there, however, the show's ubiquity became its albatross, a lesson Fox learned well with the network's subsequent summer hit, "American Idol."
CBS would love to have to make the same decision on how often to run "Million Dollar Password." For now, the network would be well positioned just to have a summer series to bridge the repeats and reality. But "Password" already helped CBS, as it outperformed its lead-in "60 Minutes" and lead-out "Cold Case" by 47%, as each delivered a 1.5, with "60" a five share and "Cold Case" a four. A rerun of "The Unit" followed with a 1.2/3 for an aggregate average of 1.6/5, which placed CBS in third.
First went to NBC, which delivered an overall 1.8/6, led by a 2.1/6 for a two-hour "Dateline," which was preceded by a 1.6/5 for "Top 100 Most Outrageous Moments."
Fox followed closely, at least in ratings, with a 1.7/6, but relied on its animation domination sitcom lineup from 8 to 10 p.m. ET, with repeats of "The Simpsons" (2.0/7), "King of the Hill" (1.9/6), "Family Guy" (2.5/7) and "American Dad" (2.3/6), all of which ranged from half ("Simpsons") to 72% ("American Dad") of their original-episode averages. The network led off the night with a .9/3 for "Don't Forget the Lyrics."
This was a similar lineup to the CW's, at least in scheduling strategy, if not in demo delivery, as a repeat of "One Tree Hill" (.2/1) led into less-than-one shares for four comedies, with .3 ratings for "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Aliens in America," followed by a .4 for "The Game" and a .5 for "Girlfriends."
As for Regis' former network, ABC delivered a 1.2/4, as another show that jumped from the covers of TV weeklies to newsweeklies, "Desperate Housewives" (1.0/3), delivered only 15% of its original-episode average. This was followed by a .9/2 for a rerun of "Brothers and Sisters." Reruns of reality-series stalwarts "America's Funniest Home Videos" (1.3/5) and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (1.4/5) performed better.
Rising inflation is undoubtedly cause for concern, but that will be just one of the issues negotiated in the annual upfront marketplace, which as detailed by Ad Age's Brian Steinberg, began in earnest last Friday. For now, deflation may be more of a concern to programmers -- at least in terms of summer ratings -- as the "Big Four" (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) only averaged a 1.6/5 for a Sunday night.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Monday: It's indicative of the endless NHL season that the best summer viewing is on ice, as Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals has the Detroit Red Wings with a 3-1 lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tuesday: Reality and repeats normally define summertime viewing. But how about a summer show about the sun? "Saved by Solar," an installment of PBS's "Nova," examines solar power.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Ratings for the NHL have been hot, at least by hockey standards, and the chance of the Red Wings winning should keep them relatively strong.
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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. 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 a commercial minute, live plus three-day viewing basis.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.