ABC Premieres of Recession-coms Land in the Middle

Rash Report: 'Hank', 'The Middle' Topped By 'So You Think You Can Dance'

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- With the worst economy since the Great Depression, do viewers want TV to reflect, or escape from, the Great Recession? Some shows are banking that viewers have had enough of bankers and others in moneyed Manhattan that made "Dirty Sexy Money," "Big Shots" and "Cashmere Mafia" on ABC as well as "Lipstick Jungle" on NBC such disconnects.

'The Middle'
'The Middle' Credit: ABC
Accordingly, into the cultural breach came "Hank" and "The Middle," which had their prime-time premieres on ABC last night. Based on their demographic delivery, early indications are that those watching the least expensive form of programming don't want to be reminded they might not be able to afford a movie (let alone a five-dollar box of popcorn).

Kelsey Grammer's "Hank," which channels Frasier Crane but not Emmy-worthy "Frasier" in a story about a dislocated executive, debuted with a 2.1/7 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. It's comedic counterpart, "The Middle," which speaks more directly to these tough times, as it features a middle-aged, middle-income, middle of the country mom just middling through, did better with a 2.6/8 (perhaps viewers do listen to reviewers after all).

While this put the hour in second place and 20% above last year's season premiere of candy-coated comedy "Pushing Daisies," it was beat by Fox's upbeat "So You Think You Can Dance" (up 8% from last week to a 2.7/8).

The CW's "America's Next Top Model" strutted a 15% demo jump from last week to a 1.5/5. (But the network lost all but a third of these viewers to a rerun of "Melrose Place," .5/1, as the network finished fifth with a 1.0/3.)

"Hank" and "The Middle's" other time slot rivals also mostly dance around the recession, although NBC's "Mercy" (2.1/6, down 9% from its series premiere) reflects the decade's other dominant story, the Iraq War, as the lead character is a veteran who may be suffering post-traumatic-stress syndrome. But "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (1.9/6, off 14% from premiere week) and "Gary Unmarried" (off a tenth of a ratings point, 2.2/7) are mostly relationship, not recession, comedies.

ABC's comedies following "Hank" and "The Middle" are also more in the relationship mold, be it inter-family ("Modern Family") or inter-generational ("Cougar Town"). Both came off their dazzling debuts from last week: "Modern Family" fell 10% to a 3.8/10. And after satisfying their Courtney Cox curiosity 14% fewer viewers came back to "Cougar Town" (3.8/9).

CBS's "Criminal Minds" (3.8/10) was off 14% from its premiere, but rival police procedural "Law and Order: SVU" on NBC (2.5/7), while lower-rated, was steady with last week.

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

Fox's "Glee," while essentially escapist, does touch on the tough times, however, especially as it references its Lima, Ohio location, which in real life has been hit hard, like much of the industrial Midwest, by manufacturing decline. The creative combination seems to work with critics, as well as viewers, as it has settled in around last night's competitive 3.3/9. And combined with "Dance," Fox tied for first with an overall 3.0/9.

The other network sharing the lead was CBS, but its 10 p.m. drama had a recession of its own, as "CSI: NY" (3.3/9) slipped 17%. The same fate befell ABC's "Eastwick" (2.3/7), which had 23% fewer viewers under its spell for week two. ABC finished third with a 2.8/8.

That left fourth place to NBC (2.2/6), which today is reacting to talk it may get a first-place price from Comcast in a potential purchase. Its 10 p.m. offering may be a sign of a collapsed economy most directly. No, not, as some caustic critics might claim, that "The Jay Leno Show" (1.9/5) evokes Depression-era vaudeville, but because its low production cost reflects how the Great Recession has hit network TV hard, just like some of its prime-time characters.

Thursday: Maybe "Saturday Night Live" should take its cue from its Thursday version, as last week there were as many laughs in half an hour as there were in the 90-minute episode two days later.
Friday: The announcement from Copenhagen on which city -- Chicago, Rio de Janiero, Tokyo or Madrid -- will host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Not only will it be good theater, particularly since Barack Obama will set a presidential precedent and personally pitch the International Olympic Committee, but it will have a major impact on impending TV rights negotiations.

Unless things improve soon, the next big case for forensic sleuths on CBS's "CSI" will be where all its viewers went, as last week's season premiere was off over 40% from last fall's first episode.

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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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