'Hope for Haiti' -- and TV

Rash Report: Benefit a Bright Spot in Bad Week for Medium

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Don't be surprised if the next must-have accessory is a library card.

Because TV may have hit a tipping point this week that just might give some viewers pause (or have them hit the "pause" button on their DVRs).

'The Deep End'
'The Deep End' Credit: ABC
First came the Kaiser study showing that we just might simply be watching too much of it -- or at least spending too much time with screens overall. Or at least your kids do, as the average 8- to 18-year-old spends seven and a half hours a day with digital devices. And due to multitasking, those seven and a half hours envelop 11 hours of media into that time span.

And to the degree that they're watching traditional TV, they're about to be buried in an avalanche of ads from corporations and unions after Thursday's Supreme Court ruling on political spending.

And the content squeezed between those ads can be as hard-hitting as political attack ads. Literally in the case of the brawling beachgoers on MTV's "Jersey Shore," which had its season finale last night, and figuratively in the case of "The Tonight Show," which ends its Conan O'Brien era tonight, capping a nasty on-air feud spanning three networks and four hosts.

But just in time, there's hope for the medium. And, more important, for Haiti. "Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief," is a rare reminder of the good TV can do. And it's not just the 30-plus networks projecting the event on TV screens, but computer ones as well, since multiple websites will stream it live. And mobile screens have already mobilized millions, as well as raised millions of dollars.

And while the effort is earnest, it promises to be entertaining as well, with top pop stars, prominent politicians and A-list actors. And it will be helmed by its organizer, George Clooney, one of the few remaining movie stars who seems to remember how to act like one.

Clooney, of course, got his big break on Thursday night network TV with the breakout hit "E.R." Nothing on last night has had the impact of that drama; the latest attempt to reproduce the "E.R." formula of attractive young people blurring their professional and persona lives (this time with lawyers, not doctors), ABC's "The Deep End," went off it, at least in terms of ratings. The series premiere finished fourth in its timeslot with a 1.8/5 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic (based on Nielsen fast affiliate ratings, with final live-plus-same-day data to be released Friday afternoon).

"The Deep End" barely beat the CW's "Vampire Diaries" (1.6/4), and lost to two repeats of CBS's "The Big Bang Theory" (2.1/6 and 2.4/7) and original episodes of NBC's "Community" (2.1/6) and "Parks and Recreation" (2.0/5).

The hour's winner was Fox's "Bones" (3.5/10), the forensic-focused drama that's redefined the drama genre since Clooney left "E.R." The genre's originator, "CSI," led into one of the latest incarnations, "The Mentalist," on CBS, as both delivered a 3.1/8. Overall CBS was third with a 2.8/8.

"Bones" led into "Fringe" (2.6/7), resulting in Fox finishing second with a 3.1/8. "Vampire Diaries" led into "Supernatural" (1.3/3) which meant that the CW finished fifth with a 1.2/3.

Clooney's old network, NBC, used to own the night, of course. But "E.R." has run its course as of last year, and even though clever comedies "The Office" (4.1/6) and "30 Rock" (2.8/7) are Emmy Award winners, they aren't always ratings ones. But they were both better than the 1.4/4 for the show that inherited "E.R.'s" timeslot, "The Jay Leno Show."

As for ABC, despite the "Deep End's" beginning, it finished stronger, as "Grey's Anatomy," a more successful update of the "E.R." formula, checked in with a 4.6/12, followed by "Grey's" spin-off "Private Practice" (3.6/10), as the network won the night with an overall 3.4/9.

Rash gridsEnlarge
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

After Thursday's highs, Friday night TV is usually a rare respite for our screen-saturated society. And while it's usually good to get a break, and actually use that library card, resist for at least one more day, as "Hope for Haiti" will hopefully show how occasionally quality can be commensurate with quantity.

Friday: "Hope for Haiti" Saturday: Get set for the upcoming Olympics with the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on NBC.
Sunday: Get set for Super Sunday two weeks from now with the AFC Championship Game on CBS and the NFC Championship on Fox.

Not that NBC would want to reconsider, but it has to notice that ever since it announced it was cutting Conan his ratings have soared. His NBC finale should be strong, too.

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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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