But despite the acrimony, both labor and management can coalesce around the same goal: avoiding a TV season that would look like, well, the schedule on Monday night.
Welcome to the future -- a schedule replete with repeats, reality and really low ratings, at least if both sides don't come to their senses and make a deal.
'Bachelorette' wins hearts
Fittingly, all-reality ABC and all-repeat CBS and Fox were tied with a 2.2/7 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. ABC won from 8 to 9 p.m. ET and from 9:30 to 10 p.m. with "The Bachelorette" (2.4/8) and "The Bachelorette: The Men Tell All" (2.6/7), only to have "The Mole" dig a hole at 10 p.m. with a 1.6/5.
CBS, Fox and the CW stuck to a summer rerun strategy dating back to the era of the "Big Three" (as opposed to the big 300 on most cable systems). CBS's sitcom repeats of "The Big Bang Theory" (1.8/6), "How I Met Your Mother" (2.1/7), "Two and a Half Men" (2.7/8) and "Rules of Engagement" (2.4/7) led into a repeat of drama "CSI: Miami" (2.1/6). "Men" and "Miami" won their respective time slots. Despite tying for the night, Fox didn't win any of the hours, as "Bones" and "House" delivered a 1.8/6 and 2.5/7, respectively.
NBC, meanwhile, approximated ABC, at least in content, running the reality shows "American Gladiators" (1.8/6) and "Nashville Star" (1.5/4) to combine for an overall fourth place (1.6/5).
As for the fifth-place CW, only 0.4/1 of households were whispering about "Gossip Girl" and "One Tree Hill."
So, overall, it was a lackluster summer night. But not a disaster, as audiences -- and advertisers -- have come to expect this kind of programming and performance from broadcasters in the summer. But if summer's dog days dissolve into fall's crisp nights and the media malaise between labor and management means a delay in the new season, the labor acrimony may yield to even more viewer apathy. And that could be far more costly than any marginal financial gain either side hopes to negotiate at the bargaining table.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: Several programs have an international angle, though only one is likely to appeal to the intellect: ABC's Japanese game show-inspired "Wipeout" and "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" and PBS's season premiere of "Wide Angle," which reports from Darfur.
Wednesday: "So You Think You Can Dance," Fox's TV equivalent to a July Fourth sparkler -- flashy, fast and relatively kid-friendly.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
While not as hyped as ABC's "Wipeout," NBC has high hopes for "Baby Borrowers," which had a strong debut last week. As with ABC, week two will begin to show if this is a one-week or summer-long sensation.
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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 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.