Topsy-Turvy TV Week Starts With Emmys, Ends With Debate

Rash Report: Returning Series Fare Better Than New Shows

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- This week began with a program to honor shows that are really worth watching, but was watched by the fewest viewers ever. And it may end with the program that people really want to watch -- the first presidential debate -- that almost got canceled, as Sen. John McCain was almost a no-show.
2008 Emmys: Jo Anne Worley, Lily Tomlin, Ruth Buzzi, Gary Owens
2008 Emmys: Jo Anne Worley, Lily Tomlin, Ruth Buzzi, Gary Owens Credit: ABC

This may all be fitting for the first week of the new season and indicative of the topsy-turvy TV landscape reflected in "The Primetime Emmy Awards," which had big breakthroughs for basic cable dramas such as AMC's "Mad Men" and "Breaking Brad" and TNT's "The Closer." The cable cabal of Emmy-worthy programming was in lieu of big broadcast hits such as "House" on Fox, "Two and a Half Men" on CBS (both nominated), "Grey's Anatomy" on ABC and "Heroes" on NBC (not nominated).

But all had what passes as the best revenge in Hollywood -- living well, at least in terms of the Nielsen ratings race, as all four of those shows outshone ABC's Emmy telecast, which delivered a 3.8/9 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. That performance was well out of this week's top 10 list and was even sacked in its timeslot by NBC's "Sunday Night Football," which was the top-rated show of the week with a 9.0/22.

As with the three previous weeks, NFL prime-time programming was prominent in the top 10 list: ESPN's "Monday Night Football" scored a ninth place 5.0/13 and football fragments scored on CBS ("Post-Gun," sixth, 5.2/17) and NBC ("Sunday Night Pre-Kick," third place with a 5.7/16).

A kick of a different sort kicked off the week well for ABC, as "Dancing With the Stars" won its timeslot three straight nights, with Monday's two-hour first dance delivering a fourth place 5.3/13. Tuesday's first "results show" resulted in a 12th place 4.7/12 and Wednesday's second "results show" posted a 3.6/10.

As for the Emmy-snubbed program premieres, the week's highest-rated regular series was "Grey's Anatomy," which delivered a second place 7.3/18. While this is a promising premiere, particularly competing against the first night of "Survivor: Gabon" (4.4/10, down 12% from last year's fall premiere) and "The Office" (down 6% from last fall to a 4.8/11), "Grey's" faded 18% from last year's season premiere. (Of course, the ratings for "Grey's," "The Office" and "Survivor" may rise once DVR viewing is accounted for, as many viwers may have recorded one in order to watch another. All Thursday data reflects Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings.)

"Two and a Half Men" followed in fifth with a 5.3/12, "CSI: Miami" came in seventh with a 5.2/13; "House" had a hold on eighth with a 5.1/14 and "Heroes" rounded out this week's list with a 5.0/12.

Conspicuously missing in the top 10 list is what is usually the defining dynamic of the new fall season: New hits that re-orient time periods and redefine networks. The closest was Fox's "Fringe," which delivered a 14th place 4.1/10. Some may emerge, as several series have yet to debut, including ABC's "Life on Mars," which will orbit right after "Grey's Anatomy" starting in October.

But for now, the new program with the biggest impact on the schedule will be one that almost got canceled, the odd couple debating in tonight in Oxford, Miss.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: Hmmm ... slow news day ... Oh! The biggest bank collapse in history, and a collapse in bailout talks and a near collapse in the first presidential debate. Find out what Sens. Obama and McCain have to say about it all starting at 9 p.m. ET.
Saturday: Need to get away from politics? Try pigskin, on all day (on nearly every channel), culminating in ABC's "Saturday Night Football" game between either Illinois and Penn State or Virginia Tech and Nebraska.
Sunday: Plays are diagrammed, highlights shown and adjustments recommended from network analysts. The NFL pregame shows on ESPN, Fox, NBC and CBS? Sure. But also on the Sunday morning discussion shows over the presidential debate on NBC's "Meet the Press," CBS's "Face the Nation," ABC's "This Week" and Fox's "Fox News Sunday."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
August's Olympics and September's presidential debate will once again prove that if the programming is compelling, viewers are available Friday night.

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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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