'The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror' Wins the Night

Rash Report: 9% More Viewers Watch Spoofs of 'Great Pumpkin,' 'Mad Men'

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- It may have been a few days after trick-or-treating, and it may lack the warm fuzzy of sincerity seeking Linus in ABC's "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." But Fox's cold funny of Homer Simpson in the 19th edition of "The Simpsons'" Halloween special has its own generational appeal, as parents teach their kids how satire not only entertains, but enlightens.
'The Simpsons' was the most-watched prime-time program and lifted the rest of the 'animation domination' lineup.
'The Simpsons' was the most-watched prime-time program and lifted the rest of the 'animation domination' lineup.

And maybe cold funny is what today's more skeptical (or cynical) viewer is looking for. After "Great Pumpkin" was down 11% in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic last week, "Treehouse of Horror" scared up 9% more viewers than last year with its own spoof of the Peanuts special and AMC's "Mad Men" too. Fox won Sunday night with an overall 4.9/12 rating and share in the demo (according to the Nielsen fast affiliate ratings -- final live + same day will be released Tuesday).

"The Simpsons" (6.2/15) was the most-watched prime-time program, which lifted the rest of the "animation domination" lineup: "King of the Hill" (4.3/10) was up 23% from its last performance two weeks ago; "Family Guy" (5.0/11) had 6% more guys (and probably some families, too); and "American Dad" (3.7/8) was up 12%.

Bittersweet triumph
The ratings rise of "King of the Hill" has to be bittersweet news for fans (and for Fox). The network announced it was canceling the comedy sometime next year, which is disappointing from a cultural perspective, but understandable commercially, as it only held 69% of its "Simpsons" lead-in audience.

The Fox sitcom lineup was preceded by the animated antics of football analysts who often seem like cartoon characters themselves -- Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long, among others -- on Fox's NFL post-game "The OT," which scored a 4.3/11 after an NFL overrun (6.1/16) ran in the first half-hour.

It was a good night for football all around, as NBC's "Sunday Night Football" game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts kicked up 55% from the sleepy Seattle Seahawks vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers match-up two weeks ago (the network had a World Series goodbye last week.) The game rated a 5.1/12 from 8-11PM (final numbers will reflect actual game times). Pregame "Football Night in America" (2.5/7) tripled last week's demo delivery (which was depressed by an NFL overrun and the World Series pre-game on Fox). For the night, NBC averaged a strong second place 4.5/11.

Women key for ABC
ABC was third with an overall 3.9/9 as females, not football, dominated. "Desperate Housewives" (5.8/13) matched last week's levels and was off just 5% from its season average, while soap sibling "Brothers and Sisters" was even with last week but down 11% from season averages. "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" also hit its mark with a 3.8/9, but "America's Funniest Home Videos" was down 12% from last week to a 2.2/6 for a half-hour version.

The truncated format for "Funniest Home Videos" was to accommodate the end of a Nascar race. The 2.7/7 for the checkered flag was lapped by Fox's NFL overrun and just beat "Football Night in America." That's no reason to wave the white flag in the sports-ratings competition, but it does show how difficult it is to be on the scheduling grid against the gridiron on Sunday nights.

CBS's "60 Minutes" felt the effect as well, delivering a 2.7/7, and "Amazing Race" (2.8/7) fell 10% from fall levels. "Cold Case" (2.6/6) and "The Unit" (2.3/6) followed, with "Case" down 4% and "The Unit" off 8% from season levels.

As for the CW, it had results even scarier than "Treehouse of Horror" -- three shows aggregating an average zero share in the overnights ("In Harm's Way," .2/1; "Valentine," .2/1; "Easy Money," .2/0).

Granted, these were repeats and not CW-originated shows, but for programming outsourced to Media Rights Capital. But a zero share is the ratings equivalent not of Halloween, but of program purgatory befitting yesterday's other celebration: All Souls' Day.

Monday: Break the election tension with NBC's "Saturday Night Live Presidential Bash 2008," which will feature sketches from campaigns past and present.
Tuesday: The best reality, drama and comedy in years culminate with coverage of election night 2008 (coverage on multiple networks).

NBC has had such success with the prime-time version of the "not ready for prime-time players" that it may want to consider making "Weekend Update Thursday" a permanent part of its primetime schedule.

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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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