A Couple of Fascinating Top 10 Lists

Rash Report: Barbara Walters Makes It to No. 9 By Naming 10

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Here's this week's Rash Report, in which one brave media buyer, John Rash of Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, dives into a week's worth of broadcast-TV ratings in order to illuminate those that delivered and those that didn't. Look for the Rash Report every Friday at Ad Age's MediaWorks.
Katherine Heigl and Barbara Walters
Katherine Heigl and Barbara Walters Credit: ABC/Donna Svennevik

MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- This week's top 10 list contains another top 10 ranking, as Nielsen's highest-rated prime-time programs includes "Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2007," which delivered a 4.6/12 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic in last night's "Fast Affiliate Ratings" that, if it holds, would be good for ninth.

Her subjective list's subjects were reflective of some of the biggest stories in pop culture, and one, Katherine Heigl, also played a role in the ratings top 10 list. Receiving raves from critics for her star-turn in "Knocked-Up," Ms. Heigl is better known for her role as Izzie in ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," which preceded the special with a 7.1/12, good for first.

Elusive media synergy
And it was good for ABC, as well as a rare example of elusive media synergy and seamless TV tonality. (It probably would have been too much to also name a "Desperate Housewives" star, even for a company woman like Barbara Walters, but the ABC drama continued its strong season with this week's 6.8/15, which places it second for the week.) And although not quite as culturally compatible as Katherine Heigl shedding her lab coat to glam it up with Barbara Walters, "Desperate's" lead-in "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" was eighth with a 4.7/11 and lead-out "Brothers and Sisters" (4.4/11) just missed the top 10 with an 11th-place 4.4/11.

Victoria and David Beckham were also found to be fascinating, but their cultural impact was mixed. "Becks" is the most famous athlete on earth, but even he couldn't make his football compete with, well, our football. The American version of football, continued its ratings hegemony, as it has all fall. Several games (or post- or pre- or selection shows) made the top 10: Fox's four-minute "NFL Sunday Post-Game" was third with a 6.2/17, NBC's "Sunday Night Football" was fourth with a 5.6/14 and NFL highlight reel "The OT" reeled 'em in with a seventh place 4.9/14.

And it's the holiday season, so that will mean bowl games (and continual holiday specials, such as CBS's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," sixth with a 5.0/14). "The Allstate BCS Selection Show" took advantage of the topsy-turvy top 20 in college football to turn in a 12th-place 4.2/11 and the night before previous No. 1 Missouri was upset in ABC's "Big 12 Championship Game," which fittingly placed 14th with a 4.1/12.

Musical celebs
Meanwhile, Ms. Beckham, also known as Posh Spice, was joined on the list by fellow musicians Jennifer Hudson, who jumped from Fox's small-screen "American Idol" to big-screen Academy Award in "Dreamgirls." And Justin Timberlake, whose on-screen presence has morphed from yesteryear's Musketeer to this year's Emmy-Award winner for a viral video of raunchy "Saturday Night Live" music video parody "Dick in a Box" (my, how they grow up so fast). Of course, "Idol" hopes to be the story of next month, as this year's most fascinating media story, the ongoing writers strike, may make it even more ratings rich as it runs against reruns on rival networks. Hoping to join it will be other reality institutions like CBS's "Survivor," which is thriving even in a pre-strike environment as last night's episode was ranked 10th with a 4.5/12.

But one show likely to be affected by the strike's strife is CBS's "CSI," which placed fifth with a 5.4/13; like nearly all dramas, "CSI" will quickly fade into repeats in a few weeks.

The other fascinating people on Ms. Walter's list were emblematic of the enigmatic year ahead, as uncertainty in North and South American politics was reflected in the inclusion of one man who wants to be president for life and another whose wife may extend his presidential influence, as Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Bill Clinton both made the list.

New media represented
And even if the aforementioned writers strike wasn't reflected in the Nielsen top 10, it was omnipresent in Ms. Walters' special, as several of the choices for most fascinating confirmed content as the once and future king. Two men at the epicenter of the earthquake shaking the media world (let alone the world) were among the fascinating few, as MySpace.com executives Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe represented the mass media migration of youth from the TV to the computer screen, which is also the crux of the issue in the writers strike. (Indeed, the importance of multimedia platforms was reinforced on Wednesday by the release of a study from across the pond that posited that many of Posh and Becks' 16- to 24-year-old mates in a 10-country European survey now statistically prefer internet usage to TV viewing. If replicated worldwide, it may make the union even more united in demanding new revenue from new media.)

One man who could have used a scriptwriter (or at least a script) in 2007 was Don Imus, who ad-libbed his way into the uniquely American melodrama of buildup, tear down and comeback -- including being on Barbara Walter's list.

Finally, Britain's J.K. Rowling was named the most fascinating person of 2007 (although this was akin to a "Lifetime Achievement Award"). That's because author Rowling's body of work in her multiyear "Harry Potter" series helped define a generation and will affect many more, as kid brothers and sisters escape through the kids of Hogwarts.

Honoring her powers of the pen -- and imagination -- was wise, as well as a timely reminder that they will remain the indispensable ingredients of creativity regardless of the technology or the times -- as network TV is about to find out.

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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.
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