Thanks to Palin, 'SNL' Breaks Into Top 10

Rash Report: Along With Football, Baseball and Other Head Games

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- The nightly Nielsen ratings race is always something of a game, as networks strategically schedule to be able to claim top rankings in either households or some key demographic. This week was no different, but the ratings game was also all about games itself, be they football, baseball or, in the case of a few scripted series, head games.
Tina Fey's dead-on impression of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has resulted in a Nielsen landslide.
Tina Fey's dead-on impression of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has resulted in a Nielsen landslide. Credit: NBC

As usual in the fall, America's pastime (sorry, baseball purists, it's football) scored highest, as football fragments, such as CBS's "Post Gun" wrap-up of Sunday's late game was the highest-rated event of the week, delivering a 6.3/19 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demo. After that, however, football fumbled just a bit, as ESPN's "Monday Night Football" (4.4/11) and NBC's "Sunday Night Football" (3.9/9) got sacked out of the top 10 for the first time this fall, with Monday's game finishing 11th and Sunday's 17th.

Baseball fans do their part
Overall, the traditional American pastime may have been passed by pigskin in terms of TV ratings, but it's still potent programming. Two games (and possibly a third) rallied into the week's top 10. Game 7 of the American League championship ran on cable's TBS but delivered a broadcast-worthy ninth-place 4.7/12. That game eliminated Boston and advanced Tampa Bay, which may have heartened those who cheer Cinderella stories, as the worst-to-first Rays are the ultimate underdog. But Fox had to be cheering for a different outcome, as it will miss Red Sox nation in the World Series.

Game 1, for instance, delivered an eighth-place 4.8/13, which was down 17% from last year's Red Sox sweep of the Colorado Rockies. (Game 2's ratings are only available in last night's Nielsen fast-affiliate form, which end at 11 p.m., so the 4.0/9 snapshot may change considerably.)

The non-scripted series that made this week's list featured central characters most noted for mind games, both with themselves and others. ABC's "Desperate Housewives," for instance, which brings viewers down Wisteria Lane to the path of suburban pathos, was second for the week with a 5.7/13.

Desperate doctors
Fox's "House," whose central character alternates between healing and afflicting physical and emotional distress, was third with a 5.6/15. Sixth was another medical show about surgeons needing psychologists, ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," which delivered a 5.3/13 in last night's fast-affiliate ratings. "Grey's Anatomy" also played head games with its loyal viewers, as star Patrick Dempsey hinted in an interview that his character may make a McDreamy husband to Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo).

Running in the same timeslot is a show that downplays character development but overplays how crimes develop: CBS's "CSI." It finished fifth with a 5.4/13 in the fast affiliates.

As usual, CBS's "Two and a Half Men," which features the cynical cerebrum of Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen), the adman alternately messing around with women or with his brother's (Jon Cryer) mind, was seventh with a 5.1/12.

And Fox's "Family Guy" (4.7/10, 10th) messed with many minds -- and maybe the political process -- as the animated satire featured a scene with talking baby Stewie transported back to World War II-era Poland, where a Nazi uniform sported a McCain/Palin button (not your standard domestic comedy, mind you).

Fey makes a huge impression
Of course, the country is in the midst of the biggest game of all -- election 2008 -- and people, not just programs, are getting animated over the outcome. "Saturday Night Live," for instance, had both Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her dead-on doppelganger, Tina Fey, on the same show. It resulted in a Nielsen landslide, as the 5.5/20 for the "not ready for prime time players" put the late-night show in fourth place on the prime-time list. It even beat last night's prime-time Thursday night version, at least according to the fast affiliates, which revealed a 21st-place 3.9/9.

Expect election fever to remain high, which should help news and fake-news ratings, not just for "SNL" but for Comedy Central's "Daily Show" and "Colbert Report." Even CNN is getting into the game with Saturday night's debut of "D.L. Hughley Breaks the News."

As always, seeing what people watch through the Nielsen ratings may say as much as Gallup. For every show, the competition will continue to be tough, as the tough guys of the NFL try to blitz back into the top 10 and the World Series continues on Fox. And every network will be going with their most promising programs, because the other big game -- the November sweeps -- starts next Thursday.

Friday: The World Series has the night off, but you can still get your baseball -- and drama -- fix on TCM, which runs "Bang the Drum Slowly" and "Eight Men Out."
Saturday: With the state of stocks and the silly season of the presidential election moving from the absurd to the sublime, if you don't laugh you'll cry. So check out the program premiere of "D.L. Hughley Breaks the News" on CNN and then flip over to "Saturday Night Live" on NBC.
Sunday: OK, sports fans, back at it: Game 4 of the World Series on Fox after an afternoon of gridiron on the schedule grids of Fox and CBS.

Polls indicate she may now be a drag on the GOP ticket, but Sarah Palin swept up the most viewers in 14 years for "SNL." How far will it fall without her highly hyped star power?

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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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