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Rash Report: Season 11 Premiere Wins Time Slot, but Fox's "Dance" Takes Night

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.
Reality TV is journalism.

Julie Chen hosts CBS's 'Big Brother 11.'
Julie Chen hosts CBS's 'Big Brother 11.' Credit: CBS
OK, that last one isn't from George Orwell's "1984." But maybe it could be about "Big Brother," the CBS reality show hosted by CBS journalist Julie Chen.

Of course, her hosting isn't done under the guise of journalism. And apparently it's fine with CBS, especially since the season 11 premiere of "Big Brother" matched last year's and won its time slot with a Nielsen fast-affiliate rating and share of 2.3/8 in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic.

Fox won the night overall, however, as "So You Think You Can Dance" delivered a 2.8/9, which combined with lead-in "Bones" (1.5/5) to give the network an overall 2.1/7, beating CBS (1.9/6), NBC (1.1/3), ABC (.8/3) and the CW (.5/2). (Live-plus-same-day data released this afternoon may alter the final numbers.)

But whatever Chen brings to "Big Brother," her involvement takes away some of the retinue of respectability needed for any journalist, let alone one anchoring a major network newscast.

To be sure, this is the modern media age, and the line between entertainment and information has been blurred. And Chen isn't the first journalist to jump between news and entertainment. Anderson Cooper, for instance, began to burrow into the nation's consciousness as host of ABC's "The Mole" in 2001 and 2002 before his anchoring stint on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" began. And it's not just a recent phenomenon: Legendary newsman Mike Wallace was a game-show host (1960's "I'll Buy That") and variety-show host (1953's "Revlon Revue") before spending years on "60 Minutes."

And, yes, even the patron saint of broadcast journalism, Edward R. Murrow, went from the intense integrity of the seminal "See It Now" -- in which, in between puffs on his cigarettes, he smoked out Joseph McCarthy -- to do puff pieces with celebrities on "Person to Person."

Rash chart July 9, 2009Click for PDF
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

But few if any journalists have concurrently held both roles, which makes possible the jarring juxtaposition of Chen reporting on a totalitarian state such as North Korea in the morning and hosting "Big Brother" in the evening.

Chen is a graceful, natural morning-news anchor, and can be particularly good in interview situations. She -- and CBS -- would be well-served by a full-time commitment to journalism, which in turn may lead more viewers to commit to her newscast. It could use them, as "The Early Show" is averaging a .8/6 this season, compared with a 1.2/9 for ABC's "Good Morning America" and a 1.6/13 for NBC's "Today."

WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: Belying the notion of the placid 1950s, the gritty, dark desperation of 1954's "On the Waterfront" and 1951's "A Streetcar Named Desire" run back to back on TCM. Half a century on, the combination of actor Marlon Brando and director Elia Kazan still packs a punch.
Saturday and Sunday: With the latest Harry Potter movie trying to cast a summer Cineplex spell on Wednesday, catch up with "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" on AMC on Saturday and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" on ABC Family on Sunday.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Forget the critics. What you really need to know about "Meteor," the two-part miniseries set to start Sunday night, is that NBC scheduled it for mid-summer instead of mid-September.

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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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