Part of the story is the markets themselves: Detroit and Pittsburgh are both smaller than Los Angeles, home of last year's champion Ducks. But their opponent, the Senators, are in Ottawa, Canada, which hurt American ratings. Mostly it's due to two great teams, in two great hockey towns, with a few great superstars. And the National Hockey League is coming off a good (it's never great for the NHL, unless the analysis is for the CBS's "Hockey Night in Canada") year on Versus and NBC.
Viewers swept off their feet
But as hot as hockey is relative to recent seasons, its limited appeal put NBC in fourth. Instead it was the athletes on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" who have the summer vibe, as many Americans have a hard time ever watching a sport on ice, let alone after Memorial Day. The 3.6/11 for a two-hour "Dance" was up 3% from last week and waltzed over the competition, giving Fox another nightly win with low-cost/high-rated reality.
Not that two straight hours of reality is the key to success. The CW, for instance, aired a rerun and fresh episode of "Farmer Wants a Wife" (.7/2 and .9/2) and finished fifth with an overall .8/2. And ABC ran originals of "Wife Swap" (2.2/7) and "Supernanny" (2.5/7), leading into the only scripted original episode last night, "Men in Trees" (1.5/4), resulting in an overall 2.1/6, which was good for second.
Despite the low ratings, ABC's all-original strategy at least approximated the regular season, as the reality shows indexed at 96% and 93% of original-episode averages, while "Men in Trees" retained 94%.
'Price Is Right' holds steady
Not so, however, for CBS, particularly for "Criminal Minds" (2.2/6) and "CSI: NY" (2.4/7), as "Minds" lost 41% and "CSI: NY" fell a third from their original-episode averages. "The Price Is Right" (1.5/5) held better at 94%, but finished fourth in the timeslot, bringing CBS down overall to a third-place 2.0/6.
Of course, this was to be expected, as "The Price Is Right Million Dollar Showcase" ran against million-dollar talent on the ice and million-dollar effort on the dance floor. And if running a repeat of a prime-time version of a daytime game show during the first week post-sweeps is any indication, network TV may be in for a long, hot summer of ratings as cool as last night's ice in Pittsburgh.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: Sure, sweeps are over, but there's still one great season finale left, as ABC's "Lost" completes its two-part capper.
Friday: Anyone who saw "Spellbound," the 2002 documentary about the national spelling bee, knows these events offer more drama, comedy and reality TV than in a whole night of prime time. ABC runs the real thing as "The 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee" starting at 8 p.m. ET.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
With AFTRA having settled on Wednesday with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, it would be fitting for one of the best scripted series, ABC's "Lost," to find its way to the top of the ratings race.
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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 broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.