Oscars Wins the Week, but Not Best Performance

Rash Report: Audience Dips Double Digits Below Last Year

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- It's hard to imagine the late Ethel Merman singing the blues. But her celebratory show tune, "There's no business like show business," could have been covered by B.B. King this week, as what is usually a highlight, the Academy Awards, ran to sharply lower ratings on ABC last Sunday.
Ethan (l.) and Joel Coen
Ethan (l.) and Joel Coen Credit: Tim Ogier

The upbeat note for the entertainment industry is that the Oscars happened at all, as the writers strike had threatened to turn the night of cinema self-promotion into the press conference kabuki that befell the Golden Globes. Instead, the telecast entertained (host Jon Stewart is better without too much preparation, anyway) and the Academy chose artistic merit over commercial concerns, as "No Country for Old Men," hardly the feel-good movie of the year, took the Best Picture prize.

The downbeat note, conversely, were the ratings, which suffered a 27% slide in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. Sure, the 9.9/25 rating and share still were good enough to be this week's top-rated show, but a unique cultural and commercial combination of factors dampened the delivery.

Oscar's lost weekend also pulled down its program predecessors, as the annual "Barbara Walters Special" on ABC fell even further than the awards, down 33% to a 3.0/9 and "Oscar's Red Carpet" had 31% less ratings glamour with a 6.0/16 (although that was still good enough to rank fifth).

The same slide befell E!, as this year's parade of red dresses on "Live From the Red Carpet" was down 29% to a 1.17/4. E!'s coverage at least provided the night's true YouTube moment, however, as unstable actor Gary Busey got busy with Jennifer Garner's neck after interrupting an interview by Ryan Seacrest.

The "American Idol" host's week got better, however, as he and Clear Channel announced a new syndicated radio show about the entertainment industry. One of the stories it would be interesting to hear him cover is why Fox's "Idol" itself -- which finished second, third and fourth this week, with Tuesday's version delivering a 9.8/25, Wednesday's a 9.2/24 and Thursday's a 9.1/24, according to last night's Nielsen "Fast Affiliate Ratings" -- is still trending down from last year, despite the stricken schedules on rival networks. Tuesday's version, for instance, was off 14% from the same spot last year, Wednesday was 13% lower and Thursday slid 7%.

To be sure, however, this is a problem every network wishes it had, as Fox used the most powerful show on TV last night to help viewers remember "Don't Forget the Lyrics" (seventh, 5.2/13) and to bring back "Back to You" on back-to-back nights Tuesday and Wednesday. Undoubtedly disappointed that the Kelsey Grammar/Patricia Heaton sitcom failed to heat up last fall, the "Idol" lead-ins at least gave the show the sampling it lacked in September. And while the scheduling strategy worked -- Tuesday's 4.3/11 and Wednesday's 4.2/11 were good for eighth- and a ninth-place tie -- the show still lost more than half of its lead-in and was lower-rated than last year's precocious "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader."

Of course, some series need no special promotional opportunities, as two innovative island-based series showed: ABC's "Lost," which came back with new episodes at the best time possible, continued its streak of top 10 finishes, delivering a sixth-place 5.4/13 and CBS's "Survivor: Micronesia," tied for ninth with a 4.2/11.

Finally, just below the top 10 was a broadcast battle that shows how hard it is to do well with good programming. ABC used its big show to help another, as "The Academy Awards" was the perfect promotional platform for a movie worthy of an Emmy Award, "A Raisin in the Sun." After shining brightly on Broadway, the TV adaptation was adopted by an impressive amount of viewers, delivering a 13th-place 3.5/9. Just as notable, however, were two shows certainly less critically acclaimed, but as audience-embraced: NBC's "Deal or No Deal" and Fox's "Moment of Truth," which both beat "Raisin" in the first hour, with "Deal" dealt an 11th-place 4.1/11 and "Moment" 14th with a 3.3/9.

Awards season is now over, as are February sweeps (however irrelevant they were this year). So while next week's top 10 may include Fox's program premiere of "New Amsterdam," it won't include any significant specials. Indeed, as network's winter of discontent gets bleaker, before new episodes of old shows arrive in spring, it might truly be a good time to hear from B.B. King. But instead of covering Ethel Merman, he could sing his signature song, "The Thrill Is Gone."

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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.
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