This Week's Top-Rated Star? Joe the Plumber

Rash Report: Debate Even Trumps Football

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Even though unemployment is edging upwards, it was a big week on network TV for Joe the Plumber, Mike the Plumber and working men and women everywhere. Joe has now surpassed "Desperate Housewives'" Mike (James Denton) as the nation's most famous plumber, after the small business aspirant asked a big question of Sen. Barack Obama on a campaign tour in Toledo. His concern over how he would be taxed became a running narrative in the debate and a running gag in the debate parody in last night's "Thursday Weekend Update" edition of NBC's "Saturday Night Live."
Joe the Plumber
Joe the Plumber Credit: AP

The real version, seen on 11 broadcast and cable networks, was watched by about 11% fewer Americans than the "town hall" format the week before. Still, the 56.5 million represented 8% more than the first Friday night debate and was easily the most-watched show on TV this week. But it won't be the highest rated of the year, as it still paled in comparison to the Palin-Biden vice-presidential debate, which drew 69.9 million. (Demographic distinctions are not yet available, but with an audience this large, it would surely be the top-rated show in the ad-centric adults 18-49 target.)

The "SNL" version (which can often have its own outsized political impact, as evidenced by declining favorability ratings for Tina Fey's doppelganger, vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin) delivered a 4.1/10 rating and share in the demo (according to last night's Nielsen fast affiliate ratings), which would place it thirteenth for the week.

As for Mike the Plumber, ABC's "Desperate Housewives" was the top-rated entertainment program of the week, finishing in third place overall with a 5.9/13.

White-collar misses out
For a week in politics (and network TV) that focused on the workingman, it's fitting that the misfits of "The Office" missed the top ten. But NBC's absurdist series about the banalities of corporate cubicle culture did come close, tying timeslot companion "SNL" with a 13th place 4.1/10, according to the fast-affiliate ratings.

But even in more stable, secure fields such as health care, network dramas show how workers can be discontented and disconnected with each other, let alone lose patience with their patients. Long gone is the gentle bedside manner of "Marcus Welby, M.D." Replacing that gentility is the hostility of Fox's "House" (seventh, 5.3/13) or, in their weaker moments, the residents of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," which according to fast-affiliate ratings from last night will place fourth with a 5.8/14.

Some shows have tapped into the morphing working world, such as the forensic-focused "CSI" franchise on CBS, in which the blue-collar sensibilities and blue police uniforms are increasingly seen in white lab coats examining DNA. Last night's original "CSI" delivered a fast affiliate 5.1/13, making it good for ninth place. And Monday's "Miami" version was 17th with a 3.9/10.

NFL in top 10
As usual for fall, the lunch-bucket manual laborers with Wall Street-type payrolls had several spots in the week's top ten: Fox's "NFL Sunday Post Gun" was the second-most-watched event (actually a football fragment) and post-game show "The OT" finished fifth, with a 7.9/24 and a 5.4/16, respectively. Two games scored as well: NBC's "Sunday Night Football" game between San Diego and New England was eighth with a 5.2/13 and ESPN's "Monday Night Football Game" between New York and Cleveland was tenth with a 4.7/12.

And sixth place was represented by a character whose hard work is characterized by wearing loud Hawaiian shirts and drinking Russian vodka (as well as everything else): Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen), the hard living, hardly working ad man of CBS's "Two and a Half Men" (5.3/12).

So despite the eroding economy resulting in scaled-back budgets from clients in turn affecting ad agencies, Madison Avenue is still a laugh a minute (well, at least on TV...)

WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: All the politics may make you want to escape to a desert island. But be careful what you wish for, lest you end up like the title character in NBC's "Crusoe," which debuts at 8 p.m.
Saturday: The topsy-turvy nature of sports sometimes makes for the best drama. This is especially true for the American League Championship Series, with Boston beating Tampa with a big comeback to force a game six, to run on TBS. And college football has been about as predictable as politics this year, so it will be fun to see how Texas fares as the new No. 1 team in the country when it plays No. 12 Missouri on ABC.
Sunday: A tense election and tough economic times have many on edge. If Audrey Hepburn can't break the spell, no one can. "Funny Face" runs at 8 p.m. on TCM.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
By marooning "Crusoe" on Friday nights, NBC has reduced its ratings potential, but also its burden, so any success should keep it on the air, at least for a while.

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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.
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