Pop Culture Remains Faithful to TV Marriage

Rash Report: ABC's 'Bachelorette' Engages Viewers

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Before last week's wave of celebrity passings, the political and pop-culture worlds were engaged with the marital woes of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Jon and Kate Gosselin, as inferred infidelity was laid bare for all the world to see.

'The Bachelorette'
'The Bachelorette' Credit: ABC
But despite -- or maybe because of -- Sanford's Appalachian-turned-Argentinean adventure and the Gosselins going their separate ways, marriage, or at least the pursuit of it, is a hot topic.

Sunday, for instance, in the wake of the very public marriage messes, the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times had a well-penned piece, "Marriage Stands Up For Itself," about the societal resiliency of the institution. And the next night ABC won the ratings race based on the appeal of "The Bachelorette," whose two-hour version tied for the highest-rated show among adults in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, as it delivered a 2.7/8 rating and share, a tenth of a ratings point above last summer's series average (based on Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings, with final live-plus-same-day data delayed until tomorrow).

But ABC's honeymoon ended the next hour with "Here Come the Newlyweds"(1.8/5), which hooked up with only 56% of its springtime average and finished last in its time slot, behind NBC's "Dateline" (2.1/6) and a repeat of CBS's "CSI: Miami" (2.0/6).

Overall, however, ABC finished first, with a 2.4/7, followed by CBS (2.1.6), NBC (1.5/5), Fox (1.4/4) and the CW (.4/1). (Please see chart for individual show ratings.)

Of course, many marriages do end up failing, creating an entire pop-culture subculture. The program that tied "The Bachelorette," for instance, was CBS's "Two and a Half Men," in which womanizing Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) and his sad-sack brother Alan (Jon Cryer) aren't exactly good marital role models for the half, Jake (Angus T. Jones).

The theme of modern marriage gets picked up in the new season, particularly as ABC tries to recreate the success of "Rosanne" with "In the Middle" and follows it with promising pilot "Modern Family." But as if to hedge its bets, ABC follows up "Modern Family" with "Cougartown," in which women of a certain age try not to end up turning to reality shows to find their next mate.

Rash chart June 29, 2009Click for PDF
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

But perhaps most pertinent will be CBS's "The Good Wife," an art-imitating-life drama about a wife and a mother forced back into the work force after her husband, a prominent politician, gets caught in a sex and corruption scandal that sends him to jail. Whether the star, Julianna Margulies, channels Silda Spitzer's more conventional role of silently suffering at the obligatory, humiliating press conference, or Jenny Sanford's proud proclamation "Not only will I survive, I'll thrive" remains to be seen.

Soon it will be back to other big stories, especially as the assorted, sordid details of the last days of Michael Jackson spill out. And if his funeral is filmed as a public event, cable-news ratings should soar.

But for a night at least, it was marriage that had the public's pulse, resulting in "The Bachelorette" beating a rare repeat of Fox's "American Idol" -- featuring last year's contestants singing Michael Jackson songs -- which delivered a 1.4/4, good for third in its time slot.

Tuesday: Sure, school's out, but learning doesn't have to be. Watch the season premiere of "Nova ScienceNow" on PBS.
Wednesday: Given The Rash Report's Minneapolis byline, it couldn't go by without pointing out a new episode of PBS's "American Masters" that profiles Garrison Keillor. Like the kids of Keillor's mythical Lake Woebegone, it promises to be above average.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Will ratings remain generous for "The Philanthropist," which has started well for NBC?

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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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