Who Needs Fake Soap Operas With Jon & Kate Around?

Rash Report: 'As the World Turns' Canceled; Prime-time Societal Soap Operas Renewed

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- CBS's cancellation of "As the World Turns" marks the end of an era, at least the end of the Procter and Gamble era, in which the company produced soaps in order to sell soap. But as far as soap operas, they're going stronger than ever. Just ask Tiger Woods, who wishes his could be canceled. Or Jon Gosselin, who was ordered by a Maryland judge yesterday to curtail his camera lust to only events sanctioned by his TLC contract. Or Gosselin wannabees Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who aspired to the type of reality surreality that may have led to Jon breaking up with Kate (sadly, the "+ 8" seem to now be cast as mere extras).

Jon Gosselin
Jon Gosselin Credit: TLC
And now both couples seem to be cast aside for the fun-loving gang on MTV's "Jersey Shore," the reality show that plays as a parody of Italian-American stereotypes, which has understandably upset groups that have worked years to get Americans to think of DaVinci, not "Yo, Vinny!" when considering their community.

And it's not just Hollywood, but Washington, as evidenced by Sarah Palin, the presidential aspirant who's probably perspiring over an extended family whose individual plotlines might have been deemed too extreme for soap-opera viewers to believe. Or Palin's former gubernatorial colleague Mark Sanford, whose wife, Jenny, just announced she's seeking a divorce after the world learned the new map of the Appalachian Trail detours through Argentina. Of course, it's not just Republicans, but Democrats, too, whose lives have turned tabloid, such as John Edwards (another National Enquirer scoop), whose mistress, Rielle, by pronouncing her name as "Real" unwittingly reflected the reality/soap opera blur.

The list, of course, can and does go on. All of which makes it harder and harder for daytime dramas -- which were once a fantasy escape from the play-it-straight culture of earlier generations, when it wasn't the messy Gosselins, but the squeaky clean Nelsons of "Ozzie and Harriet" that was prime time's portrayal of American family life. And the recently passed Walter Cronkite chronicling "Asian tiger" economies or the Bretton Woods agreement has yielded to newscasts that lead with "The National Enquirer is reporting that Tiger Woods ... "

And, of course, network TV itself has co-opted, if not cannibalized, the daytime drama with even racier prime-time versions. ABC, for instance, uses its most valuable time slots on Thursday night for "Grey's Anatomy" and its spin-off "Private Practice." Both usually dominate demographically in the ad-centric adult 18-49 target -- at least when they run original episodes. Last night the network ran reruns, so delivery was down to a 1.4/4 rating and share for "Grey's" and a 1.2/3 for "Private Practice." At 8 p.m. ABC ran a rerun of "FlashForward" (.9/3) as the network finished fourth with an overall 1.2/3. (All based on Nielsen fast affiliate ratings, with final live plus same day data to be released Friday afternoon.)

ABC's second showings led CBS to first place with an overall 4.1/11, as it ran what seems like its own version of an ongoing storyline, the gory, grisly police procedurals that have become the definitive drama genre for the network. New episodes of "CSI" (4.1/11, tying a season high) and "The Mentalist" (a season high 3.8/11) both won their respective 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. time slots. And "Survivor," whose first breakout star, the oft-naked Richard Hatch, started the post-modern media morph of reality stars becoming real-life soap operas, won its 8 p.m. hour with a season best 4.3/12.

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

Fox and NBC tied for second with a 2.7/7, but with different programming strategies. Fox, evoking CBS's forensic frenzy, led off with "Bones" (3.1/9, tying a season high) and ended with "Fringe" (2.3/6). But if Fox was evocative, NBC was provocative, with a snarky sitcom lineup that serves as an antidote to prime-time (and real-life) soap operas.

And just as CBS and Fox benefited from ABC reruns, NBC's ratings rose as well: "Community" and "Parks and Recreation" both had a 2.3 rating, with "Parks" hitting a season high. As did "30 Rock" (3.5/9), while "The Office" (4.4/12) tied its best fall showing. But at 10 p.m., a program with a schedule like a soap opera, "The Jay Leno Show," may be just as endangered, as despite delivering its best Thursday rating in months (1.9/5), it's still struggling overall.

The CW (.7/2) finished fifth with reruns of prime-time soaps that play like "Dark Shadows" --"The Vampire Diaries" (.8/2) and "Supernatural" (.7/2).

Of course, after "As the World Turns" the world -- and TV -- will still turn. And it will often turn on soapy stories themselves. But just like the game show -- daytime's other staple series -- running versions of a prime-time "Price is Right," soap operas aren't going away. Indeed, with so many celebrities and networks getting into the act, the genre just can't be contained to afternoons.

Friday: During his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama made note of Nelson Mandela, who had also won. Remember why he -- as well as fellow countryman and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu -- mattered so much by watching the apartheid drama "Cry the Beloved Country" on TCM.
Saturday: No, it's not the eggnog. You're just punch drunk by concurrent showings of "It's a Wonderful Life" on NBC, "The Polar Express" on CBS and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on CBS, all starting at 8 p.m.
Sunday: Winning the Oprah primary was more crucial than winning the Oklahoma primary for candidate Barack Obama in 2008. President Obama repays the favor with "Christmas at the White House: An Oprah Winfrey Special" on ABC at 10 p.m.

The Obama/Oprah special -- as well as the rest of prime time -- to be sacked by "Sunday Night Football" on NBC, as big-market rivals New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles play.

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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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