A 'Millionaire' Doesn't Get ABC What It Did a Decade Ago

Rash Report: Game Show's Prime Time Return Improves Demo Delivery, but Not Like First Hit Season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Program scheduling is literally and figuratively all about timing: When to run shows, both chronologically and culturally. So given the Great Recession, the hitless, listless summer season and an Academy Award-winning movie centered on the program, the sociological stars seemed aligned for a strong return of ABC's once powerful prime-time version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Regis Philbin was back as host of 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?'
Regis Philbin was back as host of 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?' Credit: ABC
But neither the dog-eat-dog economy, the dog days nor "Slumdog Millionaire" could make "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" a ratings greyhound. Instead, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" is more a plodding Labrador. Familiar and family friendly, with Regis Philbin back as host, "Millionaire" delivered a 1.4/5 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, which made it competitive in the timeslot with CBS (two episodes of "How I Met Your Mother," 1.4/5 and 1.5/5), Fox (a repeat of "House," 1.5/5) and NBC ("Great American Road Trip, 1.3/4).

"Millionaire's" demo delivery was within two-tenths of a ratings point of its high and low rating since its return on Aug. 9. And ABC reports the game show delivered 40% more viewers in its timeslot than what ran last year. All of which makes "Millionaire" a success by summer standards, but only a fraction of its summer premiere peak a decade ago, when it burst onto the scene in August with a 5.2/17 average and became as unexpectedly valuable as the winning contestants themselves.

Indeed, "Millionaire's" lead-out, "Dating in the Dark" (1.8/5), which lacked the free media hype "Millionaire" received, out-rated it by 29% last night. Combined with a 0.9/3 for a rerun of "Castle," ABC ended in a three way tie for second place with NBC and Fox (1.4/4 each).

The winner was CBS, which played to summer's other genre -- reruns -- as "Two and a Half Men" (2.5/7) and "The Big Bang Theory" (2.7/7) were the highest rated shows on network TV last night, and combined with a "CSI: Miami" repeat (1.7/5) to average a 1.9/6.

Rash grids
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See how all the shows did in the ratings.

As for "Millionaire," maybe the sociological timing didn't work because it lacked the back-story of "Slumdog Millionaire." Or maybe during these tough times viewers are even cutting back on dreaming of an unexpected windfall. And while the hitless summer created conditions for it to spike, its familiarity may make it look like all the other summer repeats. All told, however, given the economics of network TV, it's likely "Millionaire" may make more prime-time appearances. It's just less likely to leave ABC much richer for it.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: Few events will electrify like Usain Bolt's record-setting run at the World Track and Field Championships from Berlin, but Olympic fans should like the coverage on Vs.
Wednesday: TV: Whether you revere or revile it, it's always interesting, if not a video mirror to the national soul. All of which is a fancy way of saying don't feel guilty about watching "Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage" on Fox.< br/>

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Sure, IOC pressure led the USOC to scrap its plans to launch an Olympics channel. But surely some of the reason may be by comparing the World Track and Field Championship ratings to those of "Shaq Vs.," the latest quasi-sports show, this time with Shaquille O'Neill taking on other athletes in their own sports, which premieres tonight on ABC.

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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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