Save the Serial Dramas, Save TV Ratings?

Rash Report: Returning Shows Don't Deliver as Well as They Used to

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- "Save the cheerleader. Save the world" was the plotline -- and eventual marketing mantra -- for the first season of NBC's "Heroes." Now the question is, can "Heroes" save "Chuck" and "Life"?
NBC's 'Heroes.'
NBC's 'Heroes.' Credit: NBC

As with any serialized drama, including the Nielsen ratings race, it will be a cliffhanger, but both are in peril. "Chuck," which led into "Heroes," and "Life," which was the lead-out show, each delivered a 2.7/7 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, which represents a cut of a quarter of "Chuck" 's program premiere audience last fall and a 32% loss for "Life."

Losing momentum
Both are indicative of how many serialized dramas lost media momentum last year due to the strike, and how hard it will be to rebuild it without the buildup of free media any new show receives. Indeed, even the super "Heroes" success isn't as powerful, as it dropped 10% from last week to a 4.5/11. Overall, NBC placed third with a 3.3/8.

Since nature -- and TV -- abhors a vacuum, many viewers during the strike got sucked into reality shows like "Dancing With the Stars" and many are coming back. ABC's hit delivered a 4.4/11 for a two-hour episode, dipping 17% from last week's promising premiere. But it still helped the network to a second-place 3.8/10, an average dampened by "Boston Legal" losing more than half of "Dance" 's partners, as it posted a 2.0/5 at 10 p.m. ET.

While scripted sitcoms were strike-struck as well, it's easier for viewers to drop in compared to a serialized drama like "Life." Accordingly, CBS's sitcoms, led by the night's highest-rated program, "Two and a Half Men" (4.7/11) combined with 10 p.m. winner "CSI: Miami" (4.4/11) to win the night with a 3.9/10.

'Worst Week' lives up to its name
"The Big Bang Theory" (3.3/9) and "How I Met Your Mother" (3.7/9) were a bit below last week, losing 8% and 7%, respectively. But week two of "Worst Week" (2.9/7) was just that, dropping 24% from its program premiere and losing 39% of the adult viewers for "Men."

Fox, too, ran serialized dramas and faced serious erosion, as both "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (2.0/5) and "Prison Break" (2.1/5) were down 9% and 16% from their season averages as the network fell to fourth.

That was just above the one network to buck the trend, as like all kids, the CW's viewers did the opposite of what their parents do. "Gossip Girl" (1.8/5) was up 6% from its season average, and "One Tree Hill" (1.9/5) jumped 12% as the network finished fifth with a 1.9/5.

But, as usual on a Monday night, it wasn't the mean girls of "Gossip Girl" that dominated demographically, but the even meaner guys of the NFL that the networks had to fear, as ESPN's "Monday Night Football" game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens is just the latest episode in a 30-year serialized drama almost always guaranteed an audience. Due to Nielsen processing delays, the ratings, however, will also be a cliffhanger, as they won't be released until Wednesday.

Tuesday: This Minneapolis-based baseball fan will be watching the best drama on TV tonight, the one-game playoff between the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox to see which team wins the American League Central Division and moves on to ...
Wednesday: ... the Division Championship Series, with the Red Sox vs. Angels in the American League and with the Brewers vs. Phillies and Cubs vs. Dodgers in the senior circuit.

While I might be rooting for the Twins, TBS and Fox executives have to hope for the White Sox and the possibility of a subway series between Chicago's south and north sides.

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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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