Reality TV Equivalent of Summer Blockbusters, Beach Novels

Rash Report: Matching the Mood With the Season

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- One of the more perplexing pop-culture paradoxes is the inversion of seasonal escapism. Because just when winter's dark moods could use some lighter media, the bleak winter landscapes are matched by bleak feature films, with a crammed calendar of December dramas leading up to January's announcement of Academy Award nominees. Conversely, when temperatures and spirits soar in summer, it's time for blockbusters and beach reading. TV, it seems, is no different, as Tuesday's and Wednesday's broadcast and cable schedules show.

'I Survived a Japanese Game Show'
'I Survived a Japanese Game Show' Credit: ABC
Wednesday's network grid, for instance, was even more replete with reality than usual, with all but CBS programming the genre. But networks seems to be doubling down on the pop-culture puzzle, with the shows so intellectually inconsequential they make "The Hangover" -- last weekend's box-office leader -- seem worthy of a film festival.

Fox, for instance, won the ratings race in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic with a 3.0/10 rating and share for "So You Think You Can Dance," which for the season is up 3% compared with last summer. ABC countered with its own form of low-cost/low-concept reality, the absurdist game shows "Wipeout" and "I Survived a Japanese Game Show." "Wipeout" scored a 2.7/9 and is off a scant 3% for the year. "Japanese Game Show" (2.1/6) was off 32% from its premiere last year, but it's too early to tell after one episode how it will perform for the summer season. For the night, ABC finished second with a 2.0/6.

NBC finished fourth with a 1.3/4, but its highest rating was for "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!" which features D-list celeb wannabes who can't even seem to get drive-in B-movie roles. Fifth-place CW (.4/1) combined summer's top two trends by running repeats of reality, with "America's Next Top Model" and "Hitched or Ditched." (Please see the chart for all program ratings.)

While broadcast rolls out the red carpet for its cable competition to run network-defining dramas such as TNT's "The Closer," just one night earlier cable showed it's not immune to the video equivalent of a trashy beach novel (Bravo's "Real Housewives of New Jersey," with a network-like 1.9/6 on Tuesday) or a safe/scary popcorn movie like "Jaws" (Discovery's "Deadliest Catch," 1.8/5).

Rash chart June 17, 2009Click for PDF
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

Of course, there are occasional exceptions. On the big screen, Quentin Tarantino's latest in full-bore gore, "Inglourious Basterds," will premiere Aug. 21. That's also the week of the return of AMC's "Mad Men," the brooding, moody drama about mid-century Madison Avenue. Both ought to send a chill up viewers' spines even in the dog days of summer.

Thursday: OK, embrace summertime prime time (and be reminded of winter as well) by watching dancing penguins in "Happy Feet," the 2006 theatrical on ABC Family.
Friday: Remember CBS's '70s-era series "Alice"? OK, time to forget the trite TV version by watching the gritty drama that inspired it, "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," which won Ellen Burstyn an Oscar for her portrayal of Alice.

Summertime escapism to continue, with tonight's "So You Think You Can Dance" winning the ratings race.

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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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