MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Americans are getting fatter. Network ratings are getting skinnier. Will more reality shows showing real people be the result?
That at least seems to be the trend, led by NBC's "The Biggest Loser," which along with "The Office" may be the only silver lining in the programming cloud left by the departing Ben Silverman. Last spring's season seven averaged a 3.8/10 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, up 15% from last fall's season six.
And last night Fox weighed in with the program premiere of "More to Love," which features plus-size contestants in a reality dating competition.
With the reality that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, according to government data, it makes sense that they -- and their stories -- are better reflected on network TV. But despite the inspirational, life-changing challenge of "The Biggest Loser," some critics say overweight characters are often portrayed simply as losers, which may alienate some of the very people the networks need to reach to regain their commercial, let alone their cultural, heft. A study released yesterday by research group RTI International reported that obesity accounts for 9.1% of medical costs, and that an obese patient has $4,871 in medical bills compared with $3,442 for other patients.
Indeed, sensitively portraying the overweight is still a challenge for Hollywood. Most of the small screen reflects the small ideal most associate with the ethos of the entertainment industry. "More to Love," for instance, delivered a 1.9/6, which was a more than respectable showing for a new show. But it got beat by NBC's "America's Got Talent" (3.5/10), whose most prominent host is David Hasselhoff, made famous by "Baywatch." And the hard bodies (and often soft minds) of CBS's "Big Brother" delivered a 2.1/6.
Still, "More to Love" gave Fox more to like, at least as another reality series to get it through summer doldrums to the new fall schedule. But its lead-in, "Hell's Kitchen" (3.4/11) -- which features chef Gordon Ramsay whipping contestants into shape to whip up recipes that get us out of shape -- was 78% higher rated. For the night Fox finished first, however, with a 2.6/8.
That was just above NBC's 2.6/8, as the 9 p.m. original episode of "America's Got Talent" (3.5/10) was 59% higher rated than an 8 p.m. "Talent" rerun (2.2/7), and 50% higher rated than a lead-out repeat of "Law and Order: SVU" (2.1/6).
The CW, home to many size-2 models, had ratings that matched, with an overall average of .3/1.
To date, it's dating and weight-loss shows that are reflecting expanding waistlines, as the trend has not really expanded into scripted series. Next fall, for instance, most dramas and sitcoms will still have the sensibility of salad at the Ivy, rather than a Big Mac at the drive-thru. Indeed, the heaviest character might be animated on Fox's "The Cleveland Show." The live-action series more often evoke CW's remake of "Melrose Place" or ABC's "Cougar Town," in which viewers will see the comely Courtney Cox portrayed as "a woman of a certain age."
|See how all the shows did in the ratings.|
But then again, who can blame ABC? After all, the always fit, never fat contestants on "The Bachelorette" won the 10 p.m. time slot with the "After the Final Rose" show (2.8/8), en route to an overall fourth-place 1.5/5 for the network.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Wednesday: Back to reality: Summer series "Wipeout" (ABC), "America's Got Talent" (NBC) and "So You Think You Can Dance?" (Fox) dominate Wednesday's lineup.
Thursday: "Wild Russia" sounds like a PBS expose of Kremlin politics or a CNBC examination of crony capitalism. But it's the real thing, as Animal Planet explores nature in Siberia and the Caucasus.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Reality to rule over second showings of CBS's scripted series.
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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.