The '90s Are Back

Rash Report: Health-Care Debates, Asymmetrical Fashion and Melrose Place

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- An embattled, recently-elected Democratic president delivers an address to Congress to resuscitate his health-care initiative. Reports on new fall fashion call for "vibrant colors, longer skirts and asymmetry." And a TV network whose desired demographic might buy some of those fashions runs the program premiere of "Melrose Place." It's the '90s all over again.

'Melrose Place'
'Melrose Place' Credit: The CW
The parallels -- and the perils -- are eerie: President Bill Clinton, elected by remembering "it's the economy, stupid," makes the dumb mistake of outsourcing his health-care bill, only to see the woman who came to represent it torn apart by talk radio. Substitute the first lady with the first female speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, and President Obama finds himself having some of the same unhealthy political problems. In fashion, The Wall Street Journal notes this season's new looks "channel the late '80s and early '90s," which the industry hopes can pull it out of a nationwide shopping slump. And as for "Melrose Place," the CW would gladly welcome a return to the decade's demographics (although not the '90s stricter standards for content). The 1992 premiere had a 7.6/23 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, although the hot show then cooled to a full premiere season average of 6.1/15.

Last night, conversely, the retread delivered a 1.3/3, which isn't bad, considering the share shift from network to cable over a generation. And while it was only a tenth of a ratings point ahead of last year's broadcast bow of the show it replaced, the since-canceled "Privileged," it did hold the viewers of the season premiere of a remake of another '90s pop-culture touchstone, "90210" (1.3/4). But the bad news for the CW was that "90210's" digits last night were only half of the series premiere last fall. (All Tuesday ratings based on Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings, with final live-plus-same-day data released Thursday.)

So despite the hype, the CW's hope of escaping fifth place was dashed, as instead it lost to the genre that wasn't around much in the '90s, reality TV. Fox had the highest-rated version, with "Hell's Kitchen" up 6% over its season average to a 3.5/11. "More to Love" (1.9/5) followed, and there was evidently less to like, as it only delivered 54% of its lead-in viewers. But Fox won with an overall 2.7/8.

Second place went to NBC, which ran three hours of "America's Got Talent." The original episode, from 9-11 p.m., got a 2.9/8 from the Nielsen judges, which in tandem with an 8 p.m. rerun (1.5/5) resulted in NBC finishing second with a 2.4/7.

CBS (third, 2.1/6) also had a reality show as its highest rated, with "Big Brother" (2.7/7) continuing its strong summer run. And ABC ran two reality shows as well ("Shark Tank," 1.0/3 and "Shaq. Vs.," 1.5/4) and a reality/newsmagazine hybrid, "Primetime: Family Secrets," 2.2/6, as it finished fourth with a 1.6/5.

As for the '90s, we know how fashion turned out -- "asymmetry" soon devolved into grunge -- despite the glamorous Heather Locklear making "Melrose Place" a signature series for Fox. And we know how health-care reform turned out as well, which is why the most important primetime performance tonight isn't the first original episode of Fox's latest youth-appeal show, "Glee," but the repeat primetime presidential address on the same subject, but with a different Democrat, Barack Obama, as the lead actor.

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

Wednesday: From glum to "Glee": After this town-hall summer of discontent, President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress about his health-care legislation in a nationally televised address. It's important. But after the latest in the dreary debate, escape to the season premiere of "Glee," Fox's promising dramedy about a high-school glee club.
Thursday: Sixty minutes of drama, at times punctuated by blood. The program premiere of "The Vampire Diaries" on the CW? Well, sure. But it's also the kick-off of the NFL season, with the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers taking on the Tennessee Titans on NBC.

Putting profit before the president, Fox -- as it sometimes did with during the Bush administration as well -- opts for "So You Think You Can Dance" instead of Obama's address to Congress. Along with the season premiere of the CW's "America's Next Top Model," expect TV reality to beat the D.C. reality in many key demos.

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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

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