Ratings Continue to Slide for Top 10, Including 'Idol'

Rash Report: Many Programs off by Double-Digit Percentages

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Maybe everyone's being too tough on Paula. After all, all she did was what every network executive wishes they could do: round up. Not surprisingly, Paula Abdul's critique of a contestant's two songs when only one had been sung on Fox's "American Idol" was the network TV story of the week. But "Idol" also played into the network TV story of the year: the audience attrition for so many programs, particularly compared to pre-writers strike averages.
Paula Abdul's critique of a contestant's two songs when only one had been sung on Fox's 'American Idol' was the network TV story of the week.
Paula Abdul's critique of a contestant's two songs when only one had been sung on Fox's 'American Idol' was the network TV story of the week.

"Idol," of course, wasn't hit by the disruptive writers strike and had hopes of benefiting from it. But that early optimism was long ago, as it sheds viewers along with contestants, resulting in ratings significantly below the full-season averages. So while both episodes were still one-two for the week, Tuesday's 9.0/24 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic was off 18% from its season-to-date average and Wednesday's 8.4/21 slipped 20%.

'Dancing' slips up
Other reality shows in the Top Ten include ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" on Monday, which was down 8% to a 10th-ranked 4.5/11. "Hell's Kitchen," conversely, was the only top show not to freeze over, instead over-delivering by 6% to a sixth-place 5.4/13.

So despite comprising 40% of this week's Top Ten, reality is cooling just as the networks head into May sweeps. As a total genre, this week's reality shows indexed about 85% compared to season-to-date original-episode averages (some specials and shows out of their time slots didn't have a direct comparison).

Of course, sitcoms and dramas aren't faring too well, either. Dramas have been hit especially hard, indexing at 81%. ABC's "Desperate Housewives," for instance, continued its post-strike slide, finishing fourth but down 16% from its original-episode average to a 5.9/14. And last night's "Grey's Anatomy" on ABC finished third for the week with a 6.0/15 in the Nielsen "Fast Affiliate Ratings" (final live-plus-same-day ratings will likely increase). But for now, this represents a 78% index relative to new episodes. ABC's "Lost," in its new Thursday slot, earned a 4.8/13, good enough for No. 8, but still off 14%.

Vital signs unsteady
But the unwillingness to follow serials in springtime doesn't explain Fox's medical drama "House," which returned after months of a new-episode coma Monday night. The 5.8/13 was still good enough to place it fifth for the week, but was down 24% from its Tuesday average. And last night's "CSI" on CBS, a more episodic drama than time-slot rival "Grey's," rated a seventh-place 5.0/13 in the "Fast Affiliates," which represents an 18% slip.

Finally, sitcoms (and it's been a decade of the words "final" and "sitcom" in the same sentence) have also struggled, although not as much. True to form, the non-episodic nature of comedy had held retention rates higher, but at a still-anemic average index of a 91 for live-action comedies and an 85 for the animation-dominated Sunday lineup on Fox.

And also true to form, only one sitcom made this week's Top Ten list and it, too under-performed its original-episode average: CBS's "Two and a Half Men," which finished ninth with a 4.8/11, down 4%.

As for Paula Abdul, rumors abound about bouncing her or making other significant changes to refresh next year's "Idol." If she does have some more time on her hands, the networks should try to get her Los Angeles home to be a Nielsen household. After all, she may push her people meter button twice, and every little bit helps.

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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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