MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- It was a great week for prime-time soap operas. No, not ABC's "Desperate Housewives" or "Grey's Anatomy." Both shows -- as well as all prime dramas -- are still in reruns, having run the course of the summer with diminishing demos as original cable series have stolen broadcast's buzz. But rather the NFL, which kicked off the season and kick-started prime time with some of the highest ratings in weeks.
Football has all the classic components of a good soap: A specific, ritualized schedule, cliffhangers and distinctly drawn heroes and villains. Some of the soap-opera endings came on the field, as the Green Bay Packers barely beat the Eagles and the Denver Broncos hung on against Buffalo.
Heroes and villains
But Buffalo was a redemption character in the melodramatic morality play that is NFL football, as the gritty city that seems to characterize the blue-collar lunch-bucket image that makes the NFL so appealing was personified by Bills tight end Kevin Everett. His recovery from a hard hit last Sunday seems miraculous: A severe spinal cord injury that was once life-threatening may now see him walk out of the hospital.
The villain was found in Buffalo's AFC East rivals, the New England Patriots, who belied the region's puritanical roots by cheating, which may make a loser out of one of the league's great winners. Patriots coach Bill Belichick's checkbook is half a million dollars lighter and his team was also fined a quarter million. League Commissioner Roger Goodell also took away a top draft pick (or picks if the Pats miss the playoffs) after it was determined the Patriots were stealing signals by taping New York Jet coaches.
Maybe Coach Belichick should have just said he was taping the game. After all, it seemed everyone else was watching football, as the on- and off-field NFL soap opera scored. NBC's "Sunday Night Football" was the top-rated show of the week, blitzing the reruns and reality on rival networks with a 7.5/20 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. This was just one of several NFL games, post-games and overruns that overran the competition. Sure, some telecasts were just football fragments. But according to the officials (Nielsen reps in pinstripes, not refs in zebra stripes), second-place "NFL Sunday Post-Gun" on Fox (6.0/18) joined NBC's "NFL Pre-Kick" (No. 3, with a 4.9/14), "The OT" (No. 4, with a 4.3/13) and "Football Night in America" (No. 5, at 3.7/11) as exhibit A on why the networks bid so much for football.
And perhaps in the spirit of the pigskin soap operas (or maybe because guys were hogging the remote) programs featuring guys' guys characters also made the top 10: Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin of Fox's "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" as well as Charlie Sheen of CBS's "Two and a Half Men" continued performing well, with "The Simpsons" ninth with a 3.0/8, two episodes of "The Family Guy" eighth and tenth, delivering a 3.1/7 and 3.0/7, and "Two and a Half Men" was seventh with a 3.1/8.
And after a summer replete with reality TV, only one made the top 10 this week: CBS's "Big Brother 8" finale, which was sixth with a 3.2/10.
Of course, next week's new season kicks off the real soap operas and the daily drama that is the nightly Nielsens. And it's not a moment too soon, as this summer's prime time often resembled an NFL exhibition game by trying out (and quickly cutting) rookies, as no new hits emerged.
But the new season -- both network and NFL -- always holds promise. And as the networks gird for next week's new schedule grid, they could do worse than look to the gridiron for inspiration.
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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. Ad deals traditionally have been negotiated on the basis of live-viewing figures, though Nielsen Media Research and the broadcast networks release viewership statistics that include live-plus-same-day playback on digital video recorders. All the ratings listed here are live.
John Rash is senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For daily rating updates, see RashReport.com.