Susan Boyle Gives Voice to Reality TV's Ratings Success

Rash Report: 'Idol,' 'Fringe' Help Fox Win Tuesday Night

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Reality TV: Sociologists have tried to explain it, and schedulers have tried to exploit it. But what dissertations and demographic studies about the decade's dominant genre couldn't capture, Susan Boyle, a down-to-earth singer with a heavenly voice, did. Her appearance on "Britain's Got Talent" -- in which she astounded the judges as well as the public with a stirring, stunning rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" -- has been watched on YouTube more than 7 million times, and encapsulates the power of everyday people becoming overnight sensations.

Susan Boyle
Susan Boyle
One of the "Britain's Got Talent" judges is Simon Cowell, who moonlights across the pond on Fox's "American Idol," which has similarly made stars of people far from central casting, such as Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. While "Idol" is beginning to fade compared with its first few years, it continues to win its time slot, including last night, when it delivered an 8.5/23 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 audience. Lead-out "Fringe" (4.0/10) also won its time period, as Fox won the night with an overall 6.4/16.

While "Fringe" won its time slot (aided in part by CBS's "The Mentalist," 2.4/6, running a repeat and losing a third of its usual audience), the Fox drama only held half of the viewers from "Idol," which was a pattern repeated for each network that ran reality. The reality roller coaster was also apparent on fourth-place ABC (2.2/6), as the "Dancing With the Stars" results show (3.5/9) was watched twice as much as lead-out "Cupid" (1.7/5). The lead-in to "Dancing," the never-say-die "According to Jim" (1.2/4 and 1.2/3 for two episodes) didn't fare well with its return to ABC's schedule either.

And on second-place NBC (3.3/9), the biggest ratings winner was "The Biggest Loser" (3.8/10), which was watched by 37% more viewers than the 2.4/6 for lead-out "Law and Order: SVU" (although SVU was a repeat).

CBS and the CW, conversely, didn't run reality TV and had flatter -- and, at least in the CW's case, lower -- delivery: On third-place CBS (2.7/7) "The Mentalist" held 92% of a repeat of "NCIS" (2.5/7). "Without a Trace" (3.0/8) was 25% higher than "The Mentalist," although that may have been due to "Trace" being an original episode. And on fifth-place CW (0.9/2), "Reaper" (0.9/2) and "90210" (1.2/3) had nearly identical delivery.

To be sure, one video of one performance -- no matter how astounding -- can't account for reality TV's success. Indeed, those sociologists and schedulers may be particularly puzzled that on the same day Susan Boyle became a reality TV star, it was announced that Illinois' impeached, indicted former governor, Rod Blagojevich, may be a contestant in this summer's "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!" on NBC.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Wednesday: With CBS's police procedurals "Criminal Minds" and "CSI: NY" in repeats, those who want to watch cops 'n' robbers dramas can turn to a classic, "Double Indemnity" on TCM, or a series in its second week, "The Unusuals" on ABC.
Thursday: Police procedurals are what most consider prime-time cop shows. But it wasn't always that way, as witnessed by seminal series such as "Dragnet," "Adam-12," "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue." NBC's "Southland" is far from achieving that type of cultural and commercial success, but at least last week's series premiere was promising as a beat-cop show.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Ratings for week two of "The Unusuals," which faces two other cop shows without help from the premiere-week hype.

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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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