Barack Obama's 100-day mark was yesterday, as he discussed during his presidential press conference last night, but it's also been 100 days since the launch of "Lie to Me," which made its debut a night after Mr. Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration. The show made the news this week when News Corp. announced it would run the Tim Roth show instead of the president's press event.
In multiple public-opinion polls, Mr. Obama's support is relatively high, with job-approval ratings in the mid-60% range and personal approval even higher. But in TV's version of a poll -- Nielsen ratings -- both "Lie to Me" and the president's prime-time press conferences have had about half the viewers of their debuts.
In the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, 2.3/7 rating and share for "Lie to Me" was only 47% of the program premiere's 4.9/12 back in January. To be sure, it beat individual networks during the hour. But despite being highly hyped, last night's rating was even with last week.
As for the president himself, his poll numbers may stay strong but just like "Lie to Me," last night's total viewership (Nielsen doesn't delineate by demo) is also down compared to previous press conferences. Last night 28.8 million watched on 10 networks, or about 71% as many as the 40.3 million on 11 networks on March 24 and 58% as many as the 49.4 million for his first press conference on Feb. 9. And compared to his Address to a Joint Session of Congress -- a rookie president's version of the annual State of the Union Speech -- Mr. Obama's remarks marking his 100 days in office only drew 55% of the 52.3 million who watched Feb. 24.
"Lie to Me's" lead-out, "American Idol" (7.7/19), came close to last week's delivery, holding at 93%, and was enough to give Fox first place overall with a 5.0/14. The rank order of ABC, CBS and NBC is uncertain, however, as the night's average is incomplete without ratings for the press conference.
But as far as comparisons to season-to-date original averages, like most of May sweeps, the numbers were down. ABC's "Lost" (4.1/10) was the second-highest rated show of the night, but was off 7%. It didn't seem to help lead-out "The Unusuals" (1.5/4) however, as despite being up a tenth of a ratings point from last week it still was last in its timeslot.
CBS won that hour with "CSI: NY" (3.2/9), but it, too, was down, albeit a slim 6%. At 9 p.m. "Criminal Minds" (3.3/8) was off 11%.
NBC followed Mr. Obama with a rerun of "Law and Order: SVU," which could only collar a 1.2/3. But ratings rebounded for an original episode of "Law and Order" (2.2/6), which was just a tenth of a ratings point below its average.
The CW, whose young adult viewers were part of Mr. Obama's voting base, avoided the controversy Fox faced as it ran "America's Next Top Model" instead of the American president. And like "Lie to Me," it held nearly even with last week, delivering a 1.8/6. But then, showing how Nielsen ratings are just as fickle as political polls, as all but 28% of "Top Model's" viewers elected for a second term (better known in TV talk as a rerun) of "90210" (0.5/1).
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: ABC's "Private Practice" might be having its series, not season, finale had it not been taken off life support after an emergency time period transplant to Thursday nights, following "Grey's Anatomy."
Friday: OK, so how did he really do after 100 days? Hear from two straight-shooters, the New York Times' David Brooks and syndicated columnist Mark Shields on PBS's "Newshour with Jim Lehrer."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
With "Private Practice" wrapping up its season and program parent "Grey's Anatomy" gearing up for its dramatic dénouement, ABC should win Thursday night.
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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.