'Sunday Night Football' Sacks the Competition

Rash Report: Program Scores Even if 23% Fewer Viewers Tuned in Compared to Last Week

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The National Football League sacked scripted series Sunday night, as football games and post-games dominated demographically in the ad-centric adult 18-49 target.

Sacked!
Sacked! Credit: AP
NBC was first for the night, with an overall 4.8/13 rating and share, as the "Sunday Night Football Game" scored a 5.6/14. Yet that delivery should spike once the Nielsen live-plus-same-day data is released tomorrow, particularly as the game went into overtime.

But based on preliminary data, 23% fewer viewers tuned in compared to the fast-affiliate ratings for last week's Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants game. Last night still had the Giants, but the opponent must not have been deemed as worthy -- even though the Carolina Panthers have a better record.

Pre-game "Football Night in America" also fell 24%, but that was most likely because it ran into football afternoon in America or, more specifically, an NFL overrun of Fox's afternoon game (5.5/16) and post-game "The O.T." (3.2/9). But Fox fumbled this lead-in by running reruns of its animated comedies, all of which were well off their original episode averages, resulting in Fox finishing second with a 3.0/8 for the night. "The Simpsons" (2.8/8) slipped a third while lead-out "King of the Hill" (2.1/5) was down 38%. And "Family Guy" (2.5/6) and "American Dad" (2.0/5) were down 44% and 37%, respectively, as a lot of American dads (and surely many moms, too) may have switched to the football game.

They certainly didn't switch to CBS and ABC, as each ran repeats of scripted series or reality shows, with one exception. CBS was third with an overall 2.0/5, as "60 Minutes" (2.2/6, down 35%), a "Cold Case" repeat (2.2/5, off 21%) and an original "The Unit" (24% under normal levels to a 1.9/5) all underperformed.

More troubling for CBS was the 1.7/5 for the return of Regis Philbin in "Million Dollar Password," as it lost nearly a quarter of its "60 Minutes" lead-in. Maybe it's the tough times, as viewers might believe that only people with any real chance of making a million dollars are the NFL players on Fox and NBC.

Viewers certainly won't get rich by working construction, given the housing market, which is about as flat as the ratings for repeats of ABC's home construction show, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (2.0/5 and 2.1/5, which is only about 57% of its normal numbers).

"Extreme Makeover's" lead-in, "America's Funniest Home Videos" (2.1/6), fared better and was closer to regular levels, but lead-out "Desperate Housewives" performed poorly, as it was a repeat and moved to 10 p.m. It posted an anemic 1.6/4, as ABC finished fourth for the night with an overall 1.9/5.

It's nights like these that the CW could create an opportunity, but it, too, ran repeats. But the network didn't show second showings of its new shows but of CBS-canceled "Jericho" (0.3/1) and the 1986 film "Three Amigos," which delivered a 0.4/1, the same rating and share as the network's fifth place overall nightly average.

But soon enough, every network will have opportunities -- and challenges -- as next week is the last week of the regular season. So the scrambling won't be by beleaguered league quarterbacks, but by the very same networks that have relied on ratings from NFL programming since September.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Monday: TCM concurrently reflects this week's Hanukah holiday and this year's passing of Paul Newman by running "Exodus," in which Newman starred as a Jewish activist fighting for a modern Israeli state.
Tuesday: CBS's "10th Annual Home for the Holidays," hosted by Faith Hill, focuses on foster families.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Will the season finale for "Prison Break" break out of the pack, particularly since most other shows are reruns?

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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.

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