But with Hurricane Gustav blowing away most of the first day's deliberations, the anchors focused on the storm, which by nature (literally and figuratively) is a more visual, visceral story.
NBC led with a 1.6/4 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, up 14% from last week's Monday night coverage, followed by CBS (1.2/3, up 33%) and ABC (even at a 0.9/2).
Not a breakout hit
Thankfully, Gustav was easier on the Big Easy than Katrina, but perhaps cable viewing of the ongoing storm story hurt the two-hour season premiere of Fox's "Prison Break," which fell 21% from last year to a 2.6/7. But it was good enough for Fox to win the night, over NBC's 2.2/6, the CW's 1.6/4 (!) tie with CBS, and ABC's 0.7/2.
And an ill wind was evident in other ratings results as well, including week two of "America's Toughest Jobs," which fell 11% from its premiere last week to a 2.4/6, as perhaps viewers were focused on the tough jobs of FEMA workers and meteorologists instead of the NBC reality show. "Toughest Jobs" was also a bit down from lead-in "Deal or No Deal," which delivered a 2.6/7 at 8 p.m. ET.
CBS had the wind at its back with its sitcom lineup, with all four programs beating the Republican convention coverage ("The Big Bang Theory," 1.5/4, "How I Met Your Mother," 1.7/5, "Two and a Half Men," 2.4/6, and "The New Adventures of Old Christine," 1.9/5).
ABC, conversely, had its high point with its low-rated convention coverage, as "High School Musical: Get in the Picture" (0.6/2) and "Samantha Who?" (0.7/2) barely registered.
But the fresh breeze from new fall programming put the wind in the sails of the CW, which had its best ratings ever for "Gossip Girl" (1.7/5). "One Tree Hill" was in on the secret as well, generally holding the audience with a 1.6/4. Of course, the CW's desired demographic watches relatively little news -- even if it involves a hurricane -- and the competition will get tougher once rival nets start fall schedules. But for a network coming off a stormy season of its own, it's a great start.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: The real law-and-order candidate won't be talking tough from the RNC rostrum, but from cable channel FX as "The Shield" premieres in what will be its last season.
Wednesday: Now that the Olympics are over, the best drama, reality show and, increasingly, comedy on TV is the "northern exposure" that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is facing from the press. Catch her acceptance speech live on multiple networks.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Ratings from the RNC compared to the DNC, which may be a better poll than Gallup; it will also be interesting to see if Republicans rally around Fox News in the same way Democrats did with CNN.
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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.