'Defying Gravity' Grounded

Rash Report: Apollo Nostalgia No Boost for ABC Astronaut Drama

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The conditions seemed perfect for liftoff: Fresh off the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, an intense, if infrequent, assessment of the space race coincided with a space-shuttle mission. And the passing of NASA chronicler (and, at times, cheerleader) Walter Cronkite on the eve of the anniversary, though tragic, led to even more media coverage, as archival film of Uncle Walter exclaiming "Oh, boy!" at the lunar landing played for days.

'Defying Gravity'
'Defying Gravity'
But ABC's launch of astronaut drama "Defying Gravity" couldn't do that with summer ratings, as the two-hour premiere mustered only a 1.1/3 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, which was also ABC's overall average as it touched down in third place (based on fast-affiliate ratings).

Part of the problem may have been the program's premise. Those who saw the previews realized it was less about the moon and more about Venus -- and Mars -- as the crew on "Defying Gravity" features four women and four men on a mission to Venus.

Not that reliving the death-defying aspects of the space race was compelling to most Americans. On the night of the anniversary, for instance, the Discovery Channel ran "When We Left Earth: 40th Anniversary Special," which managed only a 0.6/2.

Indeed, one of the plot lines of "Apollo 13" was NASA's and astronaut families' disappointment that the networks didn't go live with coverage until the lives of the imperiled pilots were at stake. But then the world was riveted by the big story. And many film fans were riveted by the big-screen retelling in 1995, which earned more than $172 million at the box office, ranking it third that year, just behind another intrepid flier, "Batman Forever."

Rash grids

See how all the shows did in the ratings.
Maybe with the networks relying on repeats and reality from Memorial Day to Labor Day, viewers have tuned out new programming. That seemed to be the case on NBC, which was rated even lower than ABC, with a 1.0/3, as new episodes of "Dateline" (1.2/4), "Merlin" (1.1/4) and part two of "The Storm" (1.0/3) lost to repeats of "Cold Case" (1.1/3) and "Without a Trace" (1.3/4), as well as reality show "Big Brother" (2.1/7) on CBS (1.5/5).

That put CBS in a first-place tie with Fox. When final live-plus-same-day data are released tomorrow, the ratings will probably show that young men -- who 40 years ago were particularly captivated by the moon landing -- watched the guys with the wrong stuff on "The Simpsons," "Family Guy", "American Dad" and "'Til Death" instead of the guys (and gals) with the right stuff on "Defying Gravity."

Monday: "Jon and Kate" supporters and detractors can see their post-marital-meltdown return on TLC.
Tuesday: OK, enough of Jon -- who is wearing the black hat now that his post-Kate girlfriend has emerged -- and on to the "Man in Black," Johnny Cash, who is featured in a 1969 documentary on PBS's "P.O.V."

After a successful premiere, ABC's "Dating in the Dark" is single, without a "Bachelorette" lead-in. Will it still be so attractive?

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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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