NFL Scores Sunday Wins for NBC, CBS

Rash Report: Was it Ratings Card, Not 'Race Card' That Sacked Rush Limbaugh?

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- Frustrated by the rush to judgment in his attempt to be an NFL co-owner, Rush Limbaugh wrote an op-ed for Saturday's Wall Street Journal entitled "The Race Card, Football and Me."

In it, he refers to reactions from critics, including Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, that "'Racism' is too often their sledgehammer," adding that "it is being used to try to keep citizens who don't share the left's agenda from participating in the full array of opportunities this nation otherwise affords each of us."

On Sunday night the NFL blitzed every time slot.
On Sunday night the NFL blitzed every time slot. Credit: AP
Whether true or not may largely be dependent on one's political proclivities, as Limbaugh (let alone Revs. Jackson and Sharpton) are like a social, cultural and political Rorschach test.

More likely, however it may have been the ratings card as much as the race card that led some in the league to send a signal to potential partner Dave Checketts that they wouldn't buy a purchase from a group that included the talk-show host. Because, like Limbaugh, the league believes in the supremacy of the marketplace, and his lightning-rod status might belie the NFL's media model of aggregating, not aggravating, audiences during a time when so many other dynamics in America pull people apart.

Take Sunday night, for instance, which saw the league blitz every time slot, winning the ad-centric adult 18-49 ratings race along the way. First was CBS's NFL overrun of the overtime game between the New York Jets and their upstart, upstate rival the Buffalo Bills, which ran until 8:14 p.m. Final Nielsen live-plus-same-day data released Tuesday will reflect the ratings of the overrun, but fast affiliate data indicate a 6.1/17 rating and share, well above all other programs. The closest -- NBC's "Football Night in America" -- notched a 2.8/7 from 7-8:30p.m., meaning NFL football programming accounted for almost two thirds of the available demo delivery during the hour and a half.

After the Bills' victory the audience was handed off to NBC's "Sunday Night Football," which had a 6.1/15 up until 11p.m. (final data will account for post-prime pigskin). Which meant NBC won the night with an overall 4.8/12, followed by football-fueled CBS (4.0/10), which also showed out of time period "60 Minutes," "Amazing Race," "Three Rivers" and "Cold Case."

Fox, which every other week gets a similar late game, instead relied on another younger-male favorite, its animation-domination lineup, which delivered a 3.2/8, tying it with ABC for third place. Despite NBC's weekly big game, there has been a big gain from last year by substituting "King of the Hill" with the "Cleveland Show" (3.8/9), which leads into two other Seth McFarlane animation creations, "The Family Guy" (4.2/10) and "American Dad" (3.1/7). Also strong was "The Simpsons" (4.1/11), which ran its annual Halloween episode. But a repeat "Simpsons" lead-in (2.1/6) and a new episode of new show "Brothers" (1.7/5) got lost against CBS's game.

Rash gridsEnlarge
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

For its part, ABC generally held ratings for its Sunday franchises "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (3.0/8), "Desperate Housewives" (4.6/11) and "Brothers and Sisters" (3.2/8). But about 14% fewer viewers found "America's Funniest Home Videos" funny this week as it delivered a 1.9/6.

While the prospect of Rush Limbaugh as an NFL owner is over, the controversy probably isn't. Instead, it may just be beginning. Because as opposed to Rush being reined in regarding touchy NFL touchstones like players' union, subsidized stadiums and other issues, he's got nothing to lose now. Indeed, instead of his usual, enthusiastic talking up of the league from a fan's perspective, just like the Rams team he tried to buy, he may now butt heads with the NFL, all while speaking to the same mostly male demographics that undergird gridiron viewing on NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN and the NFL Network itself.

WHAT TO WATCH: Monday: Given today's big news from the Obama administration about relaxed rules regarding the prosecution of medical marijuana, maybe it's a good night to watch "Intervention" on A&E.
Tuesday: The oncoming Great Recession wasn't a great surprise to some, according to "The Warning," PBS's "Frontline" investigation of last year's money meltdown.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Will tonight's "Monday Night Football" game between the undefeated Denver Broncos and the San Diego Charges keep the NFL on its ratings roll?

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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's Compass Media, Minneapolis. For more, see

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