The Nielsen Riff on Baseball and Football

Rash Report: Fox Wins Sunday Thanks to Both

By Published on .

MINNEAPOLIS ( -- George Carlin's death in June brought to mind for many his iconic comedy routine, "The Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say on TV." But perhaps his most majestic use of his lifelong linguistic curiosity was "Baseball and Football," his riff on how each sport's code words say a lot about the nature of the sport.
Fox won the night with baseball and football.
Fox won the night with baseball and football. Credit: AP

In it, he compares and contrasts football's martial language -- blitz, shotgun, long bombs, et al. -- with baseball's pastoral parlance -- as the object is not "an aerial assault" by "the field general" (the quarterback) but is to arrive "safe at home." As eloquent as his elaboration is, one word he left out in his comic comparison was "Nielsen," which delineates the differences between the two sports, which ran back-to-back on Fox on Sunday.

Fox won the night -- the whole day, actually -- with a combination of an NFL overrun; "The OT" post-game show; and the pre-game and Game 4 of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays.

Football dominates lineup
The NFL game was regular-season, while the baseball game was part of the sport's world championship. Yet so ingrained is the gridiron on the Sunday psyche of sports fans that the overrun was the highest-rated portion of the night, with a 7.9/23 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic from 7 to 7:30 ET. (All times are approximate, with final schedules and live-plus-same-day ratings available tomorrow.) "The OT" followed with a 5.9/16.

Next up to the programming plate was the World Series pre-game, which delivered a 4.4/12, followed by a 5.1/11 for Game 4 (based on fast-affiliate ratings -- final numbers will vary).

Whatever the final figures are, football's brush-back of the World Series shows the advantage football generally has in terms of popularity. The NFL has turned its scarcity -- just 16 regular-season games, a 10th of baseball -- into demand. Of course, as excited as Philly fanatics and those cheering the Rays' worst-to-first Cinderella story were, it hurts to not have the Red Sox, or some other marquee matchup, as each of the games so far this World Series has under-delivered last year's Boston sweep of Colorado.

This isn't to say baseball didn't win -- it did, giving Fox a first-place prime-time average of 5.6/14, well over ABC's 3.9/10, CBS's 2.6/7, NBC's 1.6/4 and the CW's 0.3/1.

NBC's fourth-place reversal of fortunes is due to taking a timeout from its "Sunday Night Football" season, as the network had a bye week against the World Series. It tried to hang onto its audience profile with "Football Night in America," which got sacked by Fox's football and only delivered a 0.8/2, and guy flick "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," which scored a 1.9/5. NBC then stuck with Steve Carell for an "Office" repeat, which fell to a 1.4/4.

Alternatives to sports
ABC and CBS, conversely, stuck with their starting lineups, to mixed results. ABC runs a reversal of the testosterone on Fox and NBC for a relatively well-performing female-focused reality and drama lineup. "America's Funniest Home Videos" (2.4/7) was up 20% from last week; "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (3.9/10) moved not only the bus, but 8% more viewers; "Desperate Housewives" (5.7/13) stayed even with last week; and "Brothers and Sisters" (3.5/9) had a slight 3% lift.

CBS, without its own football lead-in it often has on Sundays, lost a third of last week's "60 Minutes" (2.2/6) audience. This probably slowed down "Amazing Race," which fell 6% from last Sunday. There was better consistency, however, for criminal caper "Cold Case" (2.7/6), which was about even with last week, and military drama "The Unit" (2.5/6), which was up 9%.

As for the CW, the Sunday schedule scuffled along again, with a 0.3/1 for "In Harm's Way" and "Valentine," and a 0.2/1 for "Easy Money" (which is maybe what Media Rights Capital, which programs the network on Sunday nights, thought they would be into).

Instead, every week the lineup gets sacked, or beaned, or whatever sports metaphor says "hurt," which may make MRC programmers channel George Carlin. Not the "Baseball and Football" routine, mind you, but the "Seven Dirty Words" you can't say on -- or about -- TV.

Monday: Like Sunday night, another baseball / football double-header, but this time concurrently, as Game 5 of the World Series plays on Fox while ESPN's "Monday Night Football" features the NFL's only unbeaten team, the Tennessee Titans, hosting the Colts of Indianapolis.
Tuesday: The nation is focused on Nov. 4. But come Nov. 5, president-elect Obama or McCain will face some greatly expanded responsibilities. PBS's "Frontline" gives a foreign-policy dossier in "The War Briefing," which may show that the lucky candidate is the one who loses.

Will "Gary Unmarried" 's hookup with "Two and a Half Men" create better audience flow? And if so, has "Worst Week" had its last week in the coveted 9:30 timeslot?

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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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