Celebrating Don Hewitt in the Age of Nadya Suleman

Rash Report: '60 Minutes' and 'Octomom'

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- As its ticking stopwatch indicates, CBS's "60 Minutes" is literally and figuratively all about timing. So it was particularly ironic that the news of the passing of "60 Minutes" creator Don Hewitt was followed hours later by Fox's telecast of "Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage."

'Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage'
'Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage' Credit: Fox
Not that Hewitt would have minded mining the Octomom story. But surely "60 Minutes" would have done it with some context beyond Fox's treatment, which made viewers voyeurs, as footage of Nadya Suleman fighting with her mom, and breaking up fights as a mom, was interspersed with pushy paparazzi and an even pushier pal who filmed the delivery in the operating room.

Instead, Hewitt would probably have mixed his alter egos, as he described in his autobiography, "Tell Me a Story." He wrote, "Through it all, I never knew which character I really wanted to be ... Hildy Johnson, the reporter in 'The Front Page,' or Julian Marsh, the Broadway producer in '42nd Street.'"

"I consider myself a guy who married 'show biz' and news biz," he is quoted as saying in today's New York Times.

"Octomom" was all about show biz. Missing was the news biz that Hewitt would have insisted on, including looking at the larger issues of fertility clinics and what a doctor's responsibility is to a patient already struggling to juggle six kids. So was a look at those looking at her, like the paparazzi who not only invaded her lawn, but her garage as she returned from the hospital.

And particularly missing was the "60 Minutes" treatment in which a correspondent might have asked her to examine why, while en route from the hospital with two of her eight babies, she concurrently recoiled at the press frenzy while applying makeup and lipstick in anticipation of it. Another unasked question was why she continues to state she hopes the hype goes away, but has trademarked the Octomom name and signed on to do a reality show.

The audience may have been wondering the same questions -- and then some. But far fewer viewers tuned in to "Octomom" than previous Fox shock specials. Last night delivered a 1.6/5 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, which was only good for a second-place tie with ABC (which won the 10 p.m. hour with a show, "Primetime: Crime," 1.6/5, that can credit its existence to the trail blazed by "60 Minutes").

Rash grids

See how all the shows did in the ratings.

Comparatively, Fox's program premiere of "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" in February 2000 had a stunning 8.8/23. "The Swan" -- which focused on some of the same plastic surgeries tabloids accuse the Octomom of having -- delivered a 6.8/18 in April 2004. Closer to the "Octomom" special, at least in ratings, was 2005's biological-father game show "Who's Your Daddy?" which got a 2.3/6.

Last night's winner may have been more of the "42nd Street" variety, as NBC's "America's Got Talent" got a 2.6/7 from the Nielsen judges for a 9 p.m. original and a 1.5/5 for an 8 p.m. recap show, which matched the "Octomom's" 8-to-8:30 p.m. ratings. Hewitt's home network, CBS, finished fourth (1.4/4) with repeats while the CW finished fifth with a .4/1.

Despite his legendary achievements -- presiding over the presidential debate in 1960, executive producing networks' first half-hour news with Walter Cronkite in 1963, and creating other TV templates taken as standard nowadays -- Hewitt once told PBS, "We started a trend and we ruined TV because we made it profitable to do this kind of thing."

He needn't have apologized, because there's nothing wrong with doing well by doing good journalism. And "this kind of thing" resulted in some of the medium's most memorable moments.

Indeed, more shows should live up to the title of Hewitt's autobiography, "Tell Me a Story." But it should be the whole story, not the tabloid take of "Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage."

Thursday: Miniseries maxed out a while ago, but one of the best was "Lonesome Dove," which will be played in its entirety (DVR alert!) on AMC.
Friday: Friday night lights, without the West Texas charm: The Dallas Cowboys play the Tennessee Titans in exhibition football on Fox.

After a nasty media catfight over whether the catwalk of "Project Runway" would stay on Bravo, season six begins tonight on Lifetime. Will viewers find it just as fashionable?

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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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