Inauguration Watched by Most, but Prime-Time Stalwarts Remain

Rash Report: Football, 'Idol,' 'Grey's Anatomy,' 'CSI' Stay in Top 10

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- In both politics and pop culture, it was a week of transitions. Most notable, of course, was the transition from President George W. Bush to President Barack Obama. The world watched, and surely at much higher numbers than Nielsen was able to measure, given the out-of-home viewing and the shift from TV screens to computer screens that clogged internet traffic.

Without football, Fox's 'American Idol' will soon score most top spots as it marches toward May.
Without football, Fox's 'American Idol' will soon score most top spots as it marches toward May. Credit: Fox
Demographic data for the inauguration are not yet available, but nearly 37.8 million people watched, and the cable and broadcast networks collectively drew a 25.5 household rating, making Obama's inauguration second only to that of Ronald Reagan.

Two of the top spots went to football fragments -- CBS's "AFC Championship Post Gun," which delivered a first-place 11.7/28 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, and "Post Game" (fourth, with a 9.0/22) -- indicating how powerful football has been this year. But now only the Super Bowl is left, and this week's bye means next Friday's top 10 will be the first since September without the NFL.

From football to 'Idol'
In its place, Fox's "American Idol" will soon score most top spots as it marches toward May. But "American Idol," whose eight seasons nearly mirrored the tenure of the Bush administration, seems in transition as well, moving from a monster hit to a top-rated but declining franchise. Wednesday's episode was second, with a 9.8/25, and Tuesday's third, with a 9.0/22. But those represents drops of 17% and 23%, respectively, from last week's premieres, which already had fallen 6% and 15% from 2008's first two episodes.

Like the ruling class in politics, pop-culture power players will still be entrenched even if the leader has changed. Fox's "House" (sixth, with a 5.5/13), CBS's "CSI" (tied for ninth with a fast-affiliate 4.9/12) and "Two and a Half Men" (seventh, with a 5.4/12) once again made the list, as did ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" (fifth, with a 5.6/14 if the fast-affiliate ratings hold) and "Lost," which returned to the air and the top 10 with a eighth-place 5.0/12.

Fox's "Lie to Me" was the highest-debuting drama this year, delivering a 4.9/12 to tie for ninth. And the season's other new hit, CBS's "The Mentalist," was 11th, with a 4.6/12.

Friday: The Oscar nominations for "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Waltz with Bashir" point out the importance of independent and world cinema. AMC updates one of the premiere film festivals showcasing such work with "AMC News: Sundance Special" at 11 p.m.
Saturday: Next year, a U.S. Olympian may skate her way to stardom in Vancouver. Get to know 'em early by watching the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on NBC.
Sunday: The return of the miniseries, with part one of NBC's "The Last Templar."

Can the miniseries still maximize ratings in today's instant-gratification media culture?

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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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