MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- A classy classic, a program premiere about class and a bit of sass highlighted Wednesday night's ratings race results.
The classic, CBS's annual showing of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," won its timeslot, just as it has seemed to do since its 1964 debut. But reflective of the dreary retail results released today, in which all but Wal-Mart seemed to fall through the floor, there was a bit less Christmas spirit, as the 4.2/12 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic was 19% down from last year.
Part of that may have been due to NBC running rival holiday special "Christmas in Rockefeller Center" (2.2/6), which was up 10% from last year.
But it also could have been because of the program premiere of Fox's "Secret Millionaire," a reality show that finally focuses on TV's invisible minority, the working poor. Of course, in true TV fashion, it does it through the eyes of incognito millionaires who get to play Santa Claus by spreading some of their wealth around.
The first half of the two-hour show debuted with a solid 2.3/7, the second rising 30% to a 3.0/8 to put the network in second place for the night with an overall 2.6/7. With ratings rising each half hour for the night, Fox may have hit on a formula that will echo in these economic times: As opposed to the escapist reality show fantasy of "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire," "Secret Millionaire" is about money, but also how it impacts those who make up a large part of any broadcaster's audience.
Those facing real-life struggles are the stars here, just as those whose lives can be lifted by new housing are the emotional center point to wish-fulfillment reality shows like ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
The first hour of "Secret Millionaire" beat ABC's "Pushing Daisies" (1.6/4) while the second hour topped the network's "Private Practice" (2.5/6). It also was higher rated than NBC's "Life" (2.4/6) which got 26% more life from following "Rockefeller Center."
CBS, meanwhile, tried to keep some moms (and even some older kids) after "Rudolph" with a "Grammy Nominations Concert" special (2.4/6), but it fell 42% from its lead-in.
Bringing the sass
Then, it was time for the sass. (Although for a few, sass was found on back-to-back episodes of The CW's "Stylista," .4/1 and .5/1, which combined for a nightly network average of .5/1.)
And the sass wasn't where it can usually be found during the timeslot -- ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money" -- but came just from focusing on the sexy: CBS's "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show." It strutted a first place 3.6/10, which was 38% higher than last year and helped CBS model a first place 3.4/9 for the night.
"Dirty Sexy Money" (1.7/5) conversely, couldn't compete, slipping 15% from season to date levels to match its lowest original episode rating ever, as ABC finished fourth with a 2.0/5.
And those who perhaps perceived "Dirty Sexy Money's" and "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show's" sass surpassed societal standards may have found comfort in NBC's "Law and Order," which was up 43% over normal levels to a season high 3.0/8, as NBC finished third with a 2.5/7.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: Take a one-night flight from reindeers to panthers, as the original "Pink Panther" (1964) runs on TCM.
Friday: It's rare to find a new holiday special. OK, so this one is full of classic clips, but NBC's program premiere of "Greatest Holiday Moments Countdown" should keep the holiday spirit going.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
The only suspense in ABC's "Barbara Walters' 10 Most Fascinating People of 2008" will be the rating. If President-elect Barack Obama doesn't top the list (or get named "Person of the Year" by Time magazine) it will be a shock.
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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.