Just Wild About Harry -- in Books and the Big Screen

Rash Report: Potter Phenomenon Diminished on Small Screen

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- A fellow novelist couldn't have come up with a better narrative for J.K. Rowling. After being on "the dole" (as polite Brits call government assistance), she has become a billionaire as the author of the Harry Potter series. The sixth movie, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," opened this week to generally positive reviews, and her seven-book Potter canon has blown through sales records worldwide. But Ms. Rowling can appreciate a plot twist, such as how Harry seems to shrink on the small screen.

J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling Credit: ABC
In anticipation of this summer's version of Potter mania, for instance, two of the recent films ran last week, but both were mugged by Muggles (Potter speak for non-magical people) who chose to watch less-inspiring fare. Saturday night's AMC screening of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" locked up only a .3/1. And although Sunday's ABC Family showing of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" hit a much higher note, with a 1.5/5, it was beaten by many other options.

Of course, this doesn't really reflect the relative popularity of the Harry Potter films and books. Instead it's indicative of today's modern media world, in which by the time films run on basic cable, they likely have been screened at the cineplex, on Cinemax and on broadcast and been available via Netflix and Blockbuster.

Last night's ABC's special, "J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life," was original. But it, too, was beat by another show, one that was inspired by -- or at least supposed to evoke -- great Brit lit. "Big Brother" had a 1.9/7 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, compared with a 1.1/4 for ABC's Rowling special (all based on Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings. Final live-plus-same-day data released late today may alter audience estimates).

Still, it wasn't a literary row but a dance-off that had the highest ratings last night, as Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" stepped up to a 2.5/8, which, combined with a rerun of "Bones" (1.4/5), gave the net a first-place 1.9/7. CBS was second, with a 1.7/6, as "Big Brother" and another show about mind control, "The Mentalist" (1.8/6), won their time slots. NBC was third, and will apparently have to wait until fall to get any bump from the 22 Emmy nods for "30 Rock," whose repeats only reached a 1.1/4 at 8 p.m. and a 1.2/4 at 9:30 p.m. ABC finished fourth, with a .9/3, as another form of great storytelling, the modern prime-time soap opera, fell flat when repeated, with an .8/3 for "Grey's Anatomy" and a .9/3 for "Private Practice."

Rash chart July 16, 2009Click for PDF
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

As for the CW, it finished fifth with a .4/1, and also underperformed its literary legacy, as "Smallville," the TV retelling of the Superman saga, delivered a not-so-super .5/2.

Friday: Rarer than a summer cold front, three networks have original programming at 8 p.m. on a July Friday night: ABC's "Surviving Suburbia" and "The Goode Family," Fox's "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?" and NBC's "Chopping Block."
Saturday and Sunday: OK, your staycation will keep you from going across the pond this summer. Visit England anyway, by watching TCM's airing of "Tom Jones," which won the best-picture Oscar in 1963. Then set your alarm for Sunday morning for final-round coverage of the British Open, beginning at 6 a.m. on TNT and continuing at 8 a.m. on ABC.

Unless Tiger is on the prowl, the early hour will make the British Open the lowest-rated major tournament.

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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 rashreport.com.

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