MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Two TV traditions -- November sweeps and holiday specials -- stood in stark contrast to those standing on the writers' picket line, as TV continues its winter of discontent. The holiday specials tradition was highlighted by two green monsters that made rivals green with envy, as Shrek and the Grinch brought some holiday cheer not just to viewers, but to ABC as well.
"Shrek the Halls" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" dominated demographically Wednesday night in the ad-centric adult 18-49 target with a 6.7/19 and 6.6/17 rating and share, respectively, making them the No. 2 and 3 programs in this week's list of network TV's Top Ten rated shows.
This continued a trend of specials being, well, special, as extraordinary ratings have become an ordinary occurrence this season. Indeed, maybe the ratings didn't grow three times, like the size of the Grinch's heart, but a 73% jump from last year is remarkable for an animated special that made its debut in 1966. But perhaps that's the very reason, as parents nostalgic for simpler times have parked their PJ'd kids in front of the warm glow of the set, making "Grinch" an "evergreen" program, one which can run continuously from season to season. "Shrek the Halls," conversely, is brand new, but the green ogre may be on his way to being evergreen as well, based on the boffo box office on the big screen and now its small-screen success.
Of course, the classic evergreen holiday special is one including a scruffy, scraggly Christmas tree: "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which also ran on ABC and just missed the Top Ten with an 11th-place 4.5/12, was off just slightly from last year. But overall Charlie Brown is belying his loser status with winning specials: Halloween eve's "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" was up 39% and "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and "He's a Bully, Charlie Brown" on ABC Nov. 20 were up 3% and 5%, respectively.
Ironically, Wednesday's Grinch put the pinch on a holiday tradition featuring a real evergreen, the lighting of the giant Christmas tree on NBC's "Christmas in Rockefeller Center," which was down 25% to a 1.9/5. But while the star on the top of that tree was seen by fewer viewers, there were other stars shining brightly on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," which is autumn's most consistent reality show, but yields to Fox's "American Idol" come winter.
"Dancing's" penultimate program on Monday was eighth with a 5.5/14 and Tuesday's finale seventh with a 5.9/15. This was joined by another ABC reality hit, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (4.8/11, good for 10th).
Uncertain fate for sitcoms
Scripted dramas and sitcoms usually are perennial hits as well, but most look to become dormant this winter as the strike's strife continues. So it could be the last time for a while that Fox's "House" (6.2/15, good for fourth) and ABC's "Desperate Housewives" (fifth with a 6.2/14) crack the Top Ten, as they eventually enter into December repeats and then an uncertain fate.
The most powerful evergreen episodes this season, however, may have been the giant sequoias masquerading as offensive linemen in multiple NFL games that have run or spilled into prime time. And once again the week's top draw was NBC's "Sunday Night Football" (8.4/20), and even a few game branches -- CBS's brief "Post-Gun" telecast (sixth, 6.0/16) and NBC's "NFL Pre-Kick" (4.9/12, good for ninth) -- made the Top Ten.
The evergreen holiday specials, NFL games (and post- and pre-games) and dramas will be back, of course, as their value as dependable content in a discontented labor environment has never been more important. But one tradition just completed -- sweeps month -- may not survive as intact, as the already anachronistic ratings system will mean even less if the writers strike truncates the rest of the season.
So, this may be looked at as the last sweeps with near-normal lineups. And even with fresh episodes, the ratings were stale, as every network this November but Fox fell. Preliminary Nielsen numbers indicate that both ABC and CBS lost 8% from last year, finishing first and second with a 3.7/10 and 3.4/9, respectively. NBC had a steeper slide, falling 14% to a third-place 3.2/9 while Fox was up 3%, good for fourth with a 3.1/8. And the CW's sophomore slump was reflected in the fifth place 1.1/3, down a dramatic 21%.
(Editor's note: These sweeps numbers are the widely-reported "Live Plus" ratings and shares, while numbers for this week's Top Ten are "Live," in order to report on a timely basis.)
New negotiations in the writers strike are reportedly scheduled for Tuesday, but the rejection of the latest offer from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to the Writers Guild of America last night may make last week look like the highest-rated week for some time, as both sides seem unable to step back and see the forest for the trees and create the next generation of evergreen programs.
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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. In order to report ratings on a timely basis, all the ratings listed here reflect a Nielsen Live number. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of a commercial minute, live-plus-3 viewing basis.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For daily rating updates, see rashreport.com.