As for the top 10, Sheen, his TV brother Jon Cryer and TV nephew Angus T. Jones (the half) had enough star power to have a rerun of "Two and a Half Men" tie for seventh with another look at dysfunctional families, ABC's "Primetime: Family Secrets." Both delivered a 2.5/7 rating and share, which was just above "House," which tied for ninth with a 2.4/7.
Basic cable gains on broadcast
The inclusion of both these programs on both of the lists was one of the few positive prime-time developments for the networks' scripted series, as only six of the 11 shows nominated in the key categories of best drama or comedy were from the broadcasters. For years, the networks have had an HBO headache, facing cultural and commercial competition from shows like "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City." But this year, Emmy voters also noticed first-rate basic-cable dramas such as AMC's "Mad Men" and FX's "Damages."
Of course, the summertime stars -- or lack of them on network TV -- aligned for cable because reality TV has been media manna for the networks, with its combination of low costs and high ratings. This is especially so during the summer swoon between season finales and fall premieres.
And this week was no different, as three networks each had two reality representatives in this week's Top Ten: Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," network TV's equivalent to a catchy summer pop song, accounted for two of the slots, with Wednesday's episode fourth with a 3.1/10 and Thursday's follow-up following with a 2.7/8, according to the Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings, which would place it sixth for the week.
NBC had a one-two reality punch as well, with "America's Got Talent" and "The Baby Borrowers," which finished third and tied for ninth with a 3.2/9 and 2.4/7, respectively.
And joining ABC's "Primetime" news magazine was a more escapist form of reality TV, "Wipeout," which won a week ago. This week it was down 20% to a second-place 3.2/11.
A long night to remember
The one-fifth wipeout for "Wipeout" actually isn't too bad, considering it ran against Fox's night of All-Stars. The pre-game brought to Yankee Stadium's infield outstanding Hall-of-Famers from previous generations, right before the future ones played a taut, often tied game. The pre-game appeared to gain most of the demographic defections from "Wipeout," as it was up 20% from last year to end in a fifth-place 3.0/11. And the All-Star Game itself (or nearly two games, as the American League slid by the National League in the bottom of the 15th inning) was up 10% to a first-place 4.5/14.
By the end of the game, the stands were half-empty. And many at home had turned their couches into beds as the baseball game morphed into a marathon. But the players -- perhaps inspired by not only the compelling contest, but by the living legends around them -- were on the edge of the bench, for once looking like Little Leaguers still pinching themselves over having made it into the big leagues (or, as they call it, "The Show" ).
Maybe network TV needs to steal a sign from the All-Star Game, and align its seminal stars in a similar gathering -- only with the red carpet substituting for the brown dirt of the Yankee Stadium infield. Because despite the medium's changes and challenges -- labor troubles, only half of the key Emmy nominations and only two scripted series in this week's top 10 -- network TV programming is still the pop-culture equivalent of "The Show." And as the American Leaguers just demonstrated, it's never too late to rally.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: CBS's hostage-negotiator drama "Flashpoint" may not have the most novel premise, but it is the only original scripted series of the night.
Saturday: Baseball junkies get their fix after the All-Star break with Saturday's games on Fox.
Sunday: Tweens often get bored in between Independence Day and Labor Day. So ABC hopes to engage them with "High School Musical: Get in the Picture," a reality contest with the winner starring in a music video in the upcoming "High School Musical 3."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
As opposed to their parents, for tweens the "Big Three" aren't ABC, CBS and NBC, but Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and The Disney Channel. Will ABC be able to channel them to network TV for "High School Musical: Get in the Picture"?
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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.