It Was Obama's Night, but Not on Broadcast

Rash Report: Networks Stick With Reruns Rather Than Airing Election News

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- History was made in the nation last night. It just wasn't carried on the nation's airwaves. Instead, the broadcast networks' cable competitors (or cousins, given today's media conglomerates) ran with the most riveting reality TV of the night: The dramatic dénouement of the Democratic primaries, which saw Sen. Barack Obama claim his party's presidential endorsement on the same St. Paul stage where his opponent, Sen. John McCain, will accept the Republican nomination during the Republican National Convention in September.
Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday night.
Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday night. Credit: AP

It wasn't as if most of the networks with news divisions had anything more compelling to program, as ABC aired all reruns and NBC and CBS each had only one new episode. Instead, it was a lost opportunity to find new audiences for the networks' nightly newscasts.

Mysterious lineup choices
CBS, for instance, which is trying to get traction for anchor Katie Couric after "The CBS Evening News" has hit historic lows, did turn to the news division, but eschewed electoral history for a "48 Hours Mystery," which delivered a 1.8/5 in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. This was bookended by repeats of "NCIS" (1.5/5) and "Without a Trace" (1.8/5), the latter of which tied for first in its timeslot. For the night, CBS averaged a second-place 1.7/5.

Third place went to NBC, as two reruns of "Law & Order: SVU" could only lock up a 1.3/4 and a 1.8/5. Earlier, two episodes of "Most Outrageous Moments" each rated a 1.6/5, which was also NBC's average for the night.

And ABC's 1.2/4 was also due to reruns, as back-to-back episodes of "According to Jim" (1.3/4 and 1.4/4) and "Samantha Who?" (each at 1.2/3) led into a repeat of "Boston Legal" (.9/3).

Hot 'Kitchen'
This left an opportunity for Fox, which won by forgoing repeats for reality. "Hell's Kitchen" was once again the highest-rated show of the night, delivering a 4.4/12 rating and share. That was up 63% from lead-in "Moment of Truth" (2.7/9) as Fox averaged a 3.6/11 for the night.

And the CW's "Beauty and the Geek" (.7/2) and "Reaper" (.6/2) repeats averaged a .6/2 for the night.

As for the cable news networks, the usual reason broadcasters cede coverage is that the ballot box is bad box office. But based on ratings from 10 to 11 p.m. ET, when Sen. Obama electrified the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, cable news could compete with network prime time.

CNN was elected by the most news viewers with a 1.4/4, a rating which would have beat or tied eight other network shows for the night. And MSNBC, which often benefits from NBC brethren like Tim Russert, Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw, delivered a 1.0/3.

Fox News viewers were apparently less enthused by the night's events, perhaps preferring to see Sen. McCain campaign in Louisiana, as the cable network that usually wins the ratings race delivered a .5/2.

Wednesday: It's not too late to jump on the bandwagon! Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals starts at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Thursday: Or maybe basketball's your thing: The NBA Finals feature a rematch of rivals Boston and Los Angeles as the Celtics take on the Lakers on ABC.

While times have changed and Kobe Bryant doesn't have the media magnetism of Magic Johnson, expect the NBA Finals to increase audiences in much the same way the Stanley Cup Finals have.

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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. 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 a commercial minute, live plus three-day viewing basis.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see
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