Reality Repeats Ruling Over Reruns

Rash Report: 'So You Think You Can Dance,' 'Big Brother' on Top, as 'Grey's,' Others Fade to Black

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- "Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone" goes the proverb. But the prime-time proverb during the summertime would have to be qualified to "laugh again" and "weep again," as reruns rule (and to some degree, ruin) schedule grids.

'Grey's Anatomy'
'Grey's Anatomy' Credit: ABC
And as for the whole world being with you, both sitcoms and dramas were pretty much abandoned last night, as they have been all summer, as fewer viewers hang around for cliffhangers or the last laugh in this time of TiVo, online viewing and other options that have made reruns nearly obsolete.

During the regular season, of course, the proverb is inverted, as dramas have dramatically broken through the cultural clutter, while network TV has about half a year to find the decade's seminal sitcom that becomes a societal group-viewing experience.

Last night continued the summertime pattern. ABC's big blockbuster hit, "Grey's Anatomy," ran two second showings, with "Grey's" 8 p.m. repeat delivering a .8/3 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, which was only a third of "Ugly Betty's" original-episode time-slot average. In its usual 9 p.m. hour, the 1.0/3 was 17% of how new episodes preformed. "Grey's" program partner, medical drama "Private Practice," was also on life support, as its .7/2 rating was 18% of its original average. Accordingly, ABC finished fourth for the night with a .8/3 (all based on Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings, with final live-plus-same-day data to be released this afternoon).

The same rerun pattern repeated itself to differing degrees for other dramas. Fifth-place CW (.5.2) only held about 31% for "Smallville" and "Supernatural," and Fox's "Bones" (1.5/5) only fleshed out 55% of its regular levels -- which was still better than the deep drop-off of 71% for CBS's "CSI" (1.4/4) and the 51% fall for 10 p.m.'s "The Mentalist" (1.8/6).

NBC, conversely, held a bit better for its sitcoms, although it certainly didn't have the whole world laughing along. But retention was 44% for the 8 p.m. repeat (1.1/4) of "30 Rock" and 36% for its regular 9:30 p.m. time slot (1.3/4). "Parks and Recreation" (1.0/3) held 42%, but that was based on a smaller original episode base. "The Office," conversely, is a bona fide hit, and thus had further to fall, as evidenced by the 30% retention reflected in last night's 1.3/4. "Law and Order," which has so many versions on seemingly so many channels, held two-thirds of its original episode average.

Of course, the sages who passed on proverbs only accounted for the universal theatrical expressions of drama and comedy. They weren't around for reality TV (which is perhaps why they're still considered so sage). So prime time's proverbial version might now need to include an addendum to accommodate shows like Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," which won the ratings race with a 2.5/8, leading Fox into first with a 2.0/7, as well as CBS's "Big Brother," which was watched by a 2.0/7, sending CBS to a second-place 1.7/6.

Rash chart July 30, 2009Click for PDF
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

Friday: Sure, maybe you might feel bad that you're watching TV on a summer Friday night. But it might make you feel better to know you're not spending any money. And indeed, you might feel downright grateful if you watch ABC's "20/20," which goes inside the country's only treatment center for money disorders.
Saturday: To see how a worldwide money disorder looks, watch the greatest film about the Great Depression, "The Grapes of Wrath," on TCM.
Sunday: And then escape the "dismal science" of economics for science and science fiction, as "Shark Week" returns to Discovery and "Defying Gravity" lifts off on ABC.

"Defying Gravity" will struggle to defy Nielsen gravity during this low-rated summer.

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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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