MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The dog days may conjure up images of the boys of summer in tight pennant races, but the images most prominent on prime-time network schedules in August are those of NFL exhibition games. With apologies to traditionalists, the sport that's become our national pastime is football -- at least as far as the true national pastime, watching TV, is concerned.
Last night an intrastate Florida football game was televised nationally by Fox, as the Miami Dolphins beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-6. Of course, winning doesn't really matter in preseason gridiron. But there is no true off-season for scheduling grids, and in the contest for the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, Fox won with a 2.3/7 rating and share (based on Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings, which do not totally reflect a 42-minute weather delay. Final live-plus-same-day data released this afternoon may slightly alter those numbers).
That sacked Fox's ratings rivals, which, for the most part, ran repeats, the equivalent of once-prominent players trying to make a comeback. ABC, for instance, finished fourth with an overall 1.1/3, despite having two episodes of "Grey's Anatomy" (1.1/4 and 1.2/4) as well as "Private Practice" (0.9/3). NBC was just ahead, with a third-place 1.4/4, despite its critically acclaimed comedies -- two "30 Rocks," 1.2/4 and 1.4/4; "Parks and Recreation," 1.1/4; and "The Office," 1.9/6 -- and an episode of "Law and Order" (1.3/4).
To be sure, original episodes in the fall will rejuvenate ratings for those big shows, but running repeats this late in the summer allows a meaningless football game to win the overall ratings race and CBS's "Big Brother" (2.7/9) to be the highest-rated show of the night overall, which helped CBS finish second, with a 2.1/6. (The CW finished fifth with a 0.7/2.)
The preseason win for Fox wasn't a fluke. In week one of the monthlong preseason, prime-time games were already averaging a 2.3/7, even though most marquee starters took only a few snaps before yielding to players viewers still can't tell apart.
Just in case sports' new national pastime has passed you by, here's a football lineup for the next four days: Friday, New England Patriots at Washington Redskins, CBS; Saturday, San Diego Chargers at Atlanta Falcons, CBS; Sunday: Chicago Bears at Denver Broncos, NBC; Monday: Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans, ESPN. The regular season -- which will regularly have the highest-rated telecasts of the week, regardless of when the games are played -- begins Sept. 10, with the Super Bowl-champion Pittsburgh Steelers taking on the Tennessee Titans on NBC.
OK, so you'll still take a pass on football? Then check out this lineup:
WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: Cut through all the cable chatter on Ted Kennedy and what is now being called "Kennedycare" by watching the political analysis of David Brooks and Mark Shields on PBS's "Newshour with Jim Lehrer."
Saturday: Since the words "big stars" and "Saturday-night network prime time" are hardly ever uttered in the same sentence anymore, check out "Jimmy Kimmel's Big Night of Stars" on ABC.
Sunday: Daytime in prime time, as the 36-annual Daytime Emmy Awards are broadcast on the CW.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Prime-time preseason football to continue to win.
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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.