The networks had hoped for more, of course, looking for life in the new "Live Plus" era. But instead it's been a lost season, as months of production were interrupted and no one show was able to get the media momentum to turn into a hit.
A look at Top 10
Take this week's Top 10 list, for example. It's in part dominated by distinctive dramas, like ABC's "Desperate Housewives," which delivered a third-place 6.3/16 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, or by last night's "Grey's Anatomy" (6.1/16) and "Lost" (4.9/13), which will find fourth and seventh place, respectively, if the Nielsen "Fast Affiliate" ratings hold. CBS and Fox also had dramas in the Top 10, with last night's "CSI" tied for seventh with a 4.9/13 in the "Fast Affiliates" and "House" (5.1/13) sixth in its new Monday time period.
But most dramas that debuted this year have either been shelved to next year -- such as ABC's "Pushing Daisies" and "Private Practice" -- or outright canceled. Only four dramas introduced last May even made it to this one: CBS's "Moonlight" (2.1/7) and The CW's "Reaper" (1.0/3) which were part of a supernatural subgenre that was the transcendent theme to emerge from last year's presentations. Respectively ranked 46th and tied for 80th for the week, "Moonlight" and "Reaper" are indicative of how the theme mainly missed, as show's like NBC's "Bionic Woman" debuted well but faded quickly.
Other freshman dramas on this week's schedule are distinctly different takes on female bonding: ABC's "Women's Murder Club" (2.0/5, 51st) and The CW's "Gossip Girl" (1.0/3, tied for 80th).
Not among the programs shown at Radio City Music Hall or Carnegie Hall last May were cable castoffs "Monk" (0.9/3, tied for 86th) and "Psych" (1.0/2, 85th) on NBC and CBS's serial-killer serial "Dexter" (1.6/4, 64th). All three ran on Sunday, a night that historically has showcased the network's best programs, not repurposed ones from their cable cousins.
The sitcom struggle has affected new and old comedies alike. CBS's "Two and a Half Men" was the only sitcom to crack the Top 10, delivering a ninth place 4.9/12. Despite the genre's struggles, however, the networks did have some limited success: ABC's "Samantha Who?," the amnesia comedy that was memorable as long as it ran tucked into a protective 90-minute "Dancing with the Stars" lead-in, delivered a 30th place 2.9/7. And CBS's "Big Bang Theory" held its own as part of the successful Monday night sitcom lineup, ranking 31st with a 2.8/9.
Both are likely to have sophomore seasons. Less certain is if Fox's "Back to You" should come back, as sitcom superstars Kelsey Grammar and Patricia Heaton never quite found their audience. This week it ranked 47th with a 2.1/6. A show more likely to face programming deportation is the CW's "Aliens in America," which was tied for dead last this week with a .4/1.
Of course, the writers strike helped make reality the year's dominant genre, which this week again took half of the Top 10 spots: Fox's "American Idol" (Nos. 1 and 2), as Tuesday's competition delivered an 8.4/23 and Wednesday's results show just below at 8.2/21 as well as "Hell's Kitchen" (5.2/13), the "Idol" lead-out which finished fifth, retaining 62% of the "Idol" audience. And "Dancing" got its foot in the Top 10 door, finishing 10th with a 4.4/11 for Wednesday's results show and just missing with an 11th place 4.3/12 for Monday's competition.
But the flipside of high-rated reality is the programming filler that was once only the stuff of summer is now remarkably present for a sweeps month. Some are well-established, but some first-year reality shows were ubiquitous. NBC's "Most Outrageous Moments," for instance, ran four times (which might outrage NBC affiliates) and averaged a 1.3/4. And this was the high mark: ABC's "Duel" tied for 80th with a 1.0/3 and even fewer wanted "Farmer Wants a Wife," The CW's cross between ABC's "The Bachelor" and single women who aspire to be modern-day Lisa Douglases, the city-slicker-turned-farm-wife of CBS's 1960's "Green Acres."
As for next week's newly announced programs, hope springs eternal. Just don't count on them to spring forward to May 2009.
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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-Plus-Same-Day 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.