Both Onscreen and Off, the Pressure's On

Rash Report: Sweating to Make the Top Ten

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- Whether in front of or behind the camera this week, it seemed everyone was feeling the pressure. The Top Ten network prime-time programs included the flop sweat of Fox's "American Idol," which once again was one-two in the ratings race in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic.
Moment of Truth
Moment of Truth Credit: Kelsey McNeal/Fox

Wednesday's elimination of Ramiele Malubay delivered an 8.3/22, and Tuesday's competition round soundly beat its network competitors with an 8.2/23.

Sweat from a hard day's work defined other reality shows in the Top Ten, with the contestants of Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" (fourth with a 5.0/13) feeling the heat of both a hot stove and hot-headed host chef Gordon Ramsay. Just as hard working, but under a more nurturing host, foreman Ty Pennington, were the house builders of ABC's ninth-place "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," which delivered a 4.3/11.

Sports always a draw
Of course, before reality TV, most of the prime-time perspiration belonged to athletes, not aspirants. But the most nervous participants in CBS's NCAA Basketball Tournament probably weren't the student-athletes or concerned coaches, but tournament selection officials. They almost saw tenth-seed Davidson pulling off a David to Kansas's Goliath, which would have upset the validation of their dream bracket of four No. 1 seed teams making it to this weekend's Final Four. The suspense of that late Sunday afternoon game resulted in the "Post-Gun" post-game show finishing sixth with a 4.7/14, while Saturday's NCAA in-game tied for twelfth with a 3.9/12.

This isn't surprising, as March viewers are usually mad over gifted athletes cutting down nets. But they've also tuned it for jocks cutting the rug, as athletic celebrities like previous winners Emmitt Smith, Apolo Ohno and Helio Castroneves team with the athletic grace of professional dancers on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." Monday competition delivered a seventh-place 4.7/13, and 3.8/10 turned out Tuesday to see Steve Guttenberg turned out by the judges, which was good for fifteenth.

The behind-the-camera pressure surely has belonged to network executives, who must have night sweats over how each night of prime-time programming performs with returning scripted series. For the most part, their fears have been alleviated, as witnessed by the strong showings of CBS's Monday and Thursday lineups, which were all new this week. The sitcoms "Two and a Half Men" (fifth, 4.9/12) and lead-out "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (eleventh, 4.1/10) made it, as did "Christine" lead-out "CSI: Miami," with too-cool-to-let-them-see-him-sweat Horatio Crane (David Caruso), delivering an eighth-place 4.6/12 (a Tuesday special episode was fourteenth with a 3.8/11).

And based on the Nielsen "Fast Affiliate Ratings" from last night, detective dramas "CSI" (third, 5.8/15) and "Without a Trace" (tenth, 4.1/11) were up 15% and 11%, respectively, compared to original episode season-to-date averages.

Ratings shocker
Despite these results, the pressure will be on for each network to not only return -- but grow -- audiences that were aggravated, not aggregated during the strike: As reported by Ad Age's Brian Steinberg yesterday, prime-time adult 18-49 ratings, excluding sports, "have dipped 16% this TV season through March 16, according to research from Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Michael Nathanson. Fox's ratings in that category are down 5.7%, while ABC's have tumbled 17.6%, NBC's 17.2% and CBS's 24.2%."

This demo diminution played into the week's biggest media news, the early announcement by NBC of its four-season schedule. In many cases eschewing pilots in order to save money -- as well as go with his programming gut -- new NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios Co-Chairman Ben Silverman announced not his Final Four, but his Fall Four, as only four new shows will be introduced this autumn. Thematically organized by hour – "Family Hour" starts at 8 p.m., "Blockbuster Hour" at 9 and "Adult Themes" at 10 – the programming described by Mr. Silverman not only defined what kind of network he envisioned, but also what it wouldn't be.

"We will not be doing 'Moment of Truth' on NBC," Mr. Silverman said, according to published reports.

This was probably a qualitative decision. Because quantitatively, Fox's lie-detector reality hit -- which is all about pressure -- has made its time-slot rivals sweat, as the show with the ability to tear families apart once again won the "family hour" Wednesday night, delivering a 3.9/12, good for a twelfth-place tie.

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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
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