Networks Serve Up Unmemorable Memorial Day

Rash Report: Reality TV and Reruns Kick Off Summer Fare

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- For the nation -- fighting wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and spooked by a nuclear North Korea -- Memorial Day is about remembering past and present sacrifices. For the networks -- using the public's airwaves -- Memorial Day was more about "remember this?" as schedules replete with repeats and recycled reality show concepts evoked the other aspect of the holiday, the unofficial start of summer.

'The Bachelorette'
'The Bachelorette' Credit: ABC
And unlike some holidays in which endemic programming is harder to come by, some of cinema's most memorable movies have shown both the glory or gore of war, or in the case of recent Academy Award nominees such as Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima" and Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan," both.

To be sure, on a day meant for patriotic appreciation, it might be risky to report on the sacrifices soldiers, sailors, marines and pilots are making that very day. But is it more disrespectful not to document it? It's not like there wasn't available time, or, in NBC's case, even a two-hour window given to the news division, but "Dateline," which delivered a 1.6/5 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic (based on fast-affiliate ratings), ignored Iraq and Afghanistan and instead focused on North Carolina and Michigan murder mysteries. (NBC followed with "Medium," which won the 10 p.m. time slot with a 2.1/6 as the network finished third overall with a 1.8/5.)

ABC also ran original programming, but didn't opt for the reality of Memorial Day, but reality TV, as "The Bachelorette" (2.1/6) and the premiere of "Here Come the Newlyweds" (1.9/5) combined for a second place 2.0/6.

The rest were second showings of scripted series featuring male leads who in previous wars were of draft age. CBS's guy-laden lineup won with a 2.1/6 ("The Big Bang Theory," 1.9/6; "How I Met Your Mother," 1.8/5; "Two and a Half Men," 2.7/7; "Rules of Engagement," 2.3/6; CSI: Miami," 1.9/5).

Fox finished fourth and the CW fifth with "House" (1.5/5) and "Bones" (1.6/4) combining for Fox's 1.6/4 and two "One Tree Hill" episodes averaging a .4/1 on the CW.

Of course, the networks' collective Memorial Day amnesia isn't an issue of patriotism, but profit, as green eyeshades eclipsed red, white and blue, with calculating cost-benefit ratios of running reruns resulting in commercial concerns over-riding cultural ones.

But culturally, network might be behind the curve. Again. Because on the eve of Memorial Day two films about war were the talk of the Cannes Film Festival. One of them, "The White Ribbon," about the black cloud over pre-World War I Germany, won the Palme D'Or. The Austrian film beat the most talked about American movie, "Inglorious Basterds", Quentin Tarantino's latest full-bore gore fest, this time a revenge fantasy of Jewish soldiers scalp-hunting Nazis.

And onstage, it really is springtime for Hitler in Germany, as "The Producers" made its German debut. No one expects the networks to follow suit with the darkness of Tarantino or the lightness of Mel Brooks. But forgetting Memorial Day isn't the route to renewed relevance, either.

WHAT TO WATCH: Tuesday: OK, so maybe it's a day late. But PBS's "Frontline World" is up to the Memorial Day task, documenting the army's push against Pakistan's Taliban threat.
Wednesday: OK, I know. It's summer! So get your escapist TV fix with the season debut of ABC's absurdist obstacle course game show "Wipeout!" or save on summer concert tickets by watching CBS's "George Strait: ACM Artist of the Decade All Star Concert."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Fox to be psyched out by a repeat of CBS's "The Mentalist" beating the program premiere of "Mental."

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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.

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