The American president? Well, yes, as Monday's Gallup Poll indicated, with President Bush's disapproval rating hitting a record-high 69%, the worst showing in the poll's history.
But also, to some degree, "American Idol," which is mired in a seventh-year slump. Sure, the Fox megahit is still in the most powerful position, finishing in the top two slots this week in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. But declines of 18% for Tuesday's competition, which delivered a 9.1/25 rating and share, as well as Wednesday's results show, which measured an 8.6/21, bring to mind a term associated with another president, Jimmy Carter: malaise.
Because "American Idol" isn't the only series showing voter, er, viewing fatigue, as nine of the week's top 10 programs underdelivered compared to original-episode averages (only CBS's "Two and a Half Men" indexed at 100 with a sixth-place 5.0/12). And while it isn't yet the network equivalent of "throw the bums out," the fact that this fatigue is evident among many shows coming back after the writers strike is notable. ABC's "Desperate Housewives," for example, continued its tepid post-strike season, delivering a fifth-place 5.5/13, down 21% from its season-to-date original-episode average.
CBS's "CSI" (eighth, 4.6/11) also declined, losing 26% of its new-episode average (based on Nielsen "Fast Affiliate Ratings"; final numbers may improve), although "CSI: Miami" on Monday held 96% of its average, tying for ninth place with a 4.3/11.
And just as in Pennsylvania on Tuesday -- where the comeback story of a woman who finds herself in too much drama ended up in a primary victory -- the comeback of Meredith Grey and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" resulted in a prime-time victory. But the 6.3/16 for the "second" premiere, while still good for third, it was off 29% from September's season premiere, and down 19% compared with its original-episode average. Granted, "live plus same day" ratings released later today will hike last night's live numbers, but at least some of the mobile, multitasking "Grey's" viewers may already have spring fever and may be hard to hook, at least until next fall.
Better retention could be found for the "Grey's Anatomy" running mate, "Lost," which also won its time slot and was closer to, but still slightly below, original-episode averages, delivering a fourth-place 5.5/14.
Escape from reality
It's not just dramas underdelivering: Tuesday's "Hell's Kitchen" cooled 6% as the Fox reality show was seventh with a 4.9/12. And ABC's Monday competition round of "Dancing With the Stars" (4.3/11, tied for ninth) fell 12% from regular levels, although the Tuesday results round rebounded, exceeding its average by 11%, finishing 12th with a 4.2/10.
The president himself seemed to get the parallel between eroding support of viewers and voters. "I'm thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings these days," he gamely joked on NBC's game show "Deal or No Deal," just hours after the Gallup Poll results were released.
But his analysis was what he might call "fuzzy math," as the 2.7/7 was the lowest ever for a Monday version of the show, down 25%, placing it in a five-way tie for 27th.
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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.