MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Much-maligned amid ratings reductions for the past generation, broadcast TV had a week in which it reminded people how powerful it can be and how important it still is.
Onscreen, a game for the ages, Super Bowl XLIII, was the most-watched event in U.S. history, with 151.6 million total viewers tuning in for all or part of the game, and an average viewership of 98.7 million. In the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, it dominated too, scoring a 36.7/72 rating and share to easily take the top spot on this week's top-10 list.
As in the entire NFL season, it's not just the game Nielsen counts but ancillary football fragments: "Pre-kick" (second, with a 28.0/69), "Kick-off" (fourth, with a 22.6/61), "Post-game" (third, with a 23.5/51) and multiple versions of the seemingly endless pre-game ("Pre-game 5:30," fifth with an 11.6/37, and "Pre-game 5:00," with a 7.8/27, good for ninth).
The big game also was the biggest night ever for "The Office," which would have seemed an unlikely candidate for a post-Super Bowl slot when NBC adopted and adapted the BBC cult hit in 2005. It was funny in that year's up economy, but its look at cubicle culture in today's down economy is even more cutting. The post-game placement exposed the quirky comedy to an 11.0/28, which was good for sixth place for the week. But despite the unprecedented promotional platform, last night's "Office" was actually down slightly from its season average, delivering a 20th-place 4.3/11.
The other scripted series to make it was ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" (5.8/14, according to last night's fast-affiliate ratings). Running against CBS's "CSI" repeat, it rounded out the top-10 list and boosted spinoff "Private Practice," which had its best night all year, with a 13th place 5.3/13. What an opportunity cost for ABC not to tandem these two shows in the first place.
Fox's "American Idol" hit its high note on Tuesday this week with a seventh-place 10.0/25, followed by Wednesday's eighth-place 9.9/27.
Offscreen, the House passed a bill that would delay the date of the digital TV transition to June 12, matching a previously passed Senate bill that President Barack Obama is expected to sign. Part of what propelled Congress was a tacit admission that the transition had been badly managed, with a wait list of more than 3 million for converter-box coupons. But the move also recognized broadcast TV as a crucial communication tool for many people, especially vulnerable elderly, poor and immigrant consumers.
To be sure, the network fabric has frayed since satellite and cable arrived. But once in a while, such as this week, the nation rediscovers the power of over-the-air, broadcast TV.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: Stanley Kubrick's ridiculous and sublime Cold War-era film "Dr. Strangelove" runs as part of TCM's "31 Days of Oscar."
Saturday: As long as you're watching the big screen on the small screen, "Casablanca" continues TCM's Oscar fest, and "Apollo 13" and "Million Dollar Baby" play in prime time on AMC.
Sunday: Watch the stars who live in your iPod on "The 51st Annual Grammy Awards" on CBS.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
A big CBS Sunday night, as real heroes, both the traditional and guitar versions, are on "60 Minutes" (Katie Couric's interview with Capt. Chesley Sullenberger) and the Grammys.
~ ~ ~
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.