The degree by which men and women differed at the voting booth was the talk of the chattering class, and sure surprised many political pollsters and pundits. But a look at another kind of exit poll -- Nielsen ratings -- shows how the election-night gender gap played out in prime time.
ABC was the only network to run a scheduled election-coverage news program, a half-hour from 9 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. that delivered a 1.0/3. But most telling wasn't the relatively low ratings, but rather the gender split, as a 62/38 female/male skew for viewers in the U.S. was even more pronounced than the votes cast in the Granite State.
Rival networks chose quick news updates; CBS ironically stuck with "The People's Choice Awards" instead of real people choosing presidential candidates.
Who was the biggest loser?
And NBC ran "The Biggest Loser," which could also describe how civic-minded Americans without cable may have felt, as those still relying on rabbit ears may have had to turn an ear to National Public Radio or an eye to the web for up-to-the-minute results. Ceding coverage to their cable competitors (or collaborators, in MSNBC's and Fox News Channel's case) hardly seems in the spirit of stations' FCC mandate. This would be an unfortunate decision in any presidential political year, but is especially disappointing in the midst of a writers strike.
This gender gap occasionally became a gulf in this week's top 10, as an unusual number of guy-friendly prime-time programs competed in a daypart that usually has a disproportionate female skew.
Counting -- as Nielsen does -- not just NFL and NCAA football games, but post-games, pre-games, "bridges between games," and "kickoffs," football took seven of the slots with an average male composition of about two-thirds in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic.
NBC's "NFL Playoff Game" was the top-rated show of the week with a 9.6/27 rating and share. Other NFL representation included CBS's "AFC Wildcard Post-Gun" (second, 8.9/24), NBC's "NFL Playoff Pre-Kick" and "Playoff Bridge" (tied for second and fourth, respectively, with an 8.9/24 and 8.4/27) and CBS's "Wildcard Post-Game" (sixth with a 7.1/19).
Pros-in-training -- otherwise known as college football players in the Bowl Championship Series -- had two spots in this week's top 10 as well, despite falling two ratings points from last year, as the "Allstate BCS National Championship" and "Kickoff" finished fifth and ninth with an 8.1/21 and a 5.8/16.
Even pseudo-sports wins
And sports played a role in two other shows scoring this week. NBC's pseudo-sport "American Gladiators" was ranked 10th with a 5.6/14 and 58% male composition, while CBS's "60 Minutes" used an NFL lead-in (and some Mike Wallace softballs to fastball pitcher Roger Clemens) to achieve a 59% male skew and a 13th place 4.5/11.
Conversely, two shows with a more female-focus in prime time also made the top 10, including ABC's "Desperate Housewives," which stormed to eighth place with the dramatic dénouement of its tornado cliffhanger, delivering a 6.4/15, with 68% of the demo delivery female. Last night's "Grey's Anatomy" will probably end up with a similar skew when final numbers are released later, but in the "Fast Affiliate Ratings" the "strike-season" finale was seventh with a 7.0/17.
One show hoping to do better may have picked the wrong week -- or the wrong era: ABC's "Cashmere Mafia," a new drama about four super-successful women from Darren Star, the creator of "Sex and the City." Indeed, while all the political talk was about divisions reflected in the gender gap, both candidates seem to agree upon the evils of the income gap, making this drama discordant not only from everyday lives, but the lively debate about what to do about the suboptimal, sub-prime economy. "Cashmere's" Sunday-night premiere finished 18th, and lost more than 40% of its "Desperate" lead-in (an encore of the premiere presented Tuesday night couldn't even crack a 1 rating, finishing with a 0.09/3). And Wednesday night's second episode dropped from its debut to a 2.3/6, but holding a bit better -- 63% -- of its "Supernanny" lead-in.
So, the much-maligned media is under fire for overestimating the "fired-up" Barack Obama's appeal. To be fair, however, politics -- as with programming -- is hard to predict. But maybe the media following the senators from the snows of New Hampshire to the sun of Nevada should start to look to the nightly Nielsen election before the weekly primaries and caucuses, as voting and viewing patterns seem in synch.
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NOTE: A share is a percentage of TV households that have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all TV households, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. households with a TV. In order to report ratings on a timely basis, all the ratings listed here reflect a Nielsen Live number. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of a commercial minute, live-plus-3 viewing basis.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For daily rating updates, see rashreport.com.