MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- It was a case of life imitating art -- or maybe the other way around. At about the same time President-elect Barack Obama announced he would eventually close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Nielsen released ratings indicating that Sunday's premiere of Fox's "24" had tumbled 30% in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic. It seems that both policies and programs that were widely embraced after Sept. 11 may have run their course.
Reflecting how American attitudes about torture have shifted since "24" premiered a few weeks after Sept. 11, the show's two-hour season premiere showed an unrepentant Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) facing a Senate panel grilling him about his interrogation methods. "24" fell 31% to an overall 4.1/10 rating and share. That was good enough for Fox to finish second overall, just behind CBS's first place 4.4/11.
Maybe CBS read the public pulse a bit better, giving viewers what they seem to want in these troubled times: well-written but silly sitcoms. "The Big Bang Theory" (4.4/11) and "How I Met Your Mother" (4.8/12) hit series highs, and "Two and a Half Men" (5.6/13) earned a season high and the night's top rating. "Worst Week" (3.2/7) didn't have its best week, however, and while "CSI: Miami" (4.1/11) won its time slot, it failed to match its season high.
ABC and NBC tried to let viewers escape reality as well, albeit with reality TV, but were no match for CBS and Fox. ABC's "The Bachelor" (3.2/8) beat NBC's "Superstars of Dance" (1.9/5), as "The Bachelor" matched last week's season premiere, while "Dance" lost 30% from last week's time-period premiere.
Both nets slipped at 10 p.m., as ABC's "True Beauty" (2.8/7) lost 12% of its premiere performance, and NBC's "Momma's Boys" (1.7/5) was off 6% from its original-episode averages so far this season.
ABC was third overall, with a 3.1/8, while NBC (1.9/5) was uncomfortably close to the CW (1.4/3), as "Gossip Girl" (1.3/3) and "One Tree Hill" (1.4/3) came in 19% and 12% below their season averages, respectively.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: Fox's "American Idol" is back. Better than ever? Tonight will begin to tell.
Wednesday: It may be impossible for those who haven't been loyal viewers to find the meaning of "Lost," but ABC will run a recap in advance of next week's season premiere.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
"Idol" is focusing less on humiliating off-key (and off-the-wall) singers and more on aspirational, if not inspirational, contestants. Will it revive ratings?
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.