Mud, Sweat and Tears: 'Wipeout' Wins the Week

Rash Report: But Probably Won't Be Up for an Emmy

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- It was a week of TV wipeouts. First was "Wipeout," the new ABC game show. It not only wiped out its timeslot competition, but the rest of network TV as well, debuting as the top-rated program this week in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic with a 3.7/12 rating and share. Channeling its Japanese TV ancestry and American audiences' especially escapist tendencies during 2008's summer of discontent, the low-cost/low-concept contest hit the highest prime-time premiere ratings so far this summer and was the best bow on ABC in the last three summers.
'Wipeout' did just that to its timeslot competition, along with the rest of network TV, debuting as the top-rated program this week in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic with a 3.7/12 rating and share.
'Wipeout' did just that to its timeslot competition, along with the rest of network TV, debuting as the top-rated program this week in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic with a 3.7/12 rating and share. Credit: ABC/Adam Larkey

The connection continued between the land of the rising sun and summertime TV as "Wipeout" companion "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" also made the top 10, tying for fourth with a 3.1/9. That demo delivery was second in its time period, however, to a cultural import not from across the Pacific, but the Atlantic: Scottish chef Gordon Ramsay of Fox's "Hell's Kitchen," which finished second for the week with a 3.6/10. And the British invasion continued on NBC, which borrowed "The Baby Borrowers," the U.K.'s social-experiment-turned-TV-show. It came into this American TV world Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET, weighing in at a healthy eighth-place 2.9/9.

Reality rules the airwaves
Of course us Yanks can crank out reality frivolity of our own in today's global TV marketplace, and three made it into the top 10: NBC's "America's Got Talent" (3.1/9, which ties it for fourth), ABC's "Bachelorette" (10th, 2.5/8) and Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" (Wednesday's version came in third with 3.1/10, and Thursday night's reached 3.0/9, which would tie it for sixth if the Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings hold).

What didn't make it represents the second of this week's wipeouts: first-run scripted sitcoms and dramas, which have been all but washed away by the reality tsunami. Sure, two reruns -- CBS's "Two and a Half Men" (tied for sixth with a 3.0/9) and Fox's "Family Guy" (2.7/8, ninth) -- were on the list. But increasingly, crisp scripted summertime drama is cable's business model. And this commercial tipping point has become a cultural one, as evidenced by the early release of semifinalists for the Emmy Awards.

Half of that prestigious top 10 are broadcast dramas (ABC's "Boston Legal," "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy," Fox's "House" and NBC's "Friday Night Lights") and half are cable dramas. And for the first time, two from basic cable are on the list: AMC's "Mad Men" and FX's "Damages," which join cable cousins from HBO ("The Tudors" and "The Wire") and Showtime ("Dexter").

Of course, "Dexter" also ran on CBS, which is indicative of how even the networks -- along with critics and viewers themselves -- have wiped out any distinction between dramas on cable and network.

Comedy standouts
The comedy list is almost as dramatic: Four of the semifinalists are cable comedies (HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Entourage" and "Flight of the Conchords" and Showtime's "Weeds"), while six are from broadcasters (Fox's "Family Guy," CBS's "Two and a Half Men," NBC's "The Office" and "30 Rock," and ABC's "Ugly Betty" and "Pushing Daisies").

And while "Camp Rock" is unlikely to ever be an Emmy semifinalist, it unleashed a tween scream loud enough for everyone to hear, as the Disney Channel's bridge between last summer's TV event, "High School Musical 2," and next year's "High School Musical 3" was the top-rated show in total viewers in its timeslot, broadcast or cable.

Indeed, for the millennial generation, the wipeout of the broadcast/cable (and soon to be internet?) line is now nearly complete, as the Big Four aren't CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox but increasingly Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, the Disney Channel and (if mom's in the room) PBS.

But what must really worry the TV industry -- as well as audiences and advertisers -- is that wipeout week may quickly turn into wipeout year. Monday is the expiration of the Screen Actors Guild contract, and no immediate settlement is on the horizon.

It's hard to tell if SAG is more mad at management (the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) or their union brethren in the rival American Federation of TV and Radio Actors (AFTRA).

Either way, the stakes are high. But, as witnessed with "Wipeout" and much of summertime TV, the networks -- and viewers -- have a "plan B" if A-list actors pick the picket line. And this time, as evidenced by the blur between broadcast and cable scripted series, the impact on cable could be crippling, too.

Friday: It might be a hot summer night. Cool off with "Singin' in the Rain" on Turner Classic Movies.
Saturday and Sunday: Before NBC's peacock turns the colors of the five Olympic rings, it proudly turns red, white and blue during the Olympic Trials. Get on the fast track Saturday and jump into the pool Sunday for the track and field and swimming and diving finals.

It may be a summer Friday at ad agencies, but it will be a work weekend for SAG, AFTRA and the AMPTP. Whatever the outcome, it will be Monday's media story.

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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 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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