State of the Union Address Reaches 48 Million Viewers

Rash Report: Meanwhile, 'American Idol' Steamrolls on the Entertainment Front

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- The state of the union is strong, said President Barack Obama. So was interest in his State of the Union Address, which reached more than 48 million viewers over 11 networks. While 5% higher than the 45.8 million who watched President Clinton's first such address, it was 7% lower than the 51.7 million who tuned in for President Bush's 2002 version, although that came just months after 9/11.

President Obama delivers the State of the Union Address.
President Obama delivers the State of the Union Address. Credit: AP
Perhaps most telling for the telegenic president is that some of the initial curiosity (and, if polls are accurate, support) has waned, as last night's address reached 4.7 million fewer viewers than his first Address to a Joint Session of Congress, which is a rookie president's version of the State of the Union Address.

Individual network ratings and the demographic distinction of the ad-centric adult 18-49 target are not available, so overall network winners can't be directly determined. But based on the total viewership, as well as the nonstop news narrative, it was a night of focus on the American president.

"American Idol," conversely, was once again the big story in entertainment programming, as the Fox hit delivered a 9.5/26 rating and share in the demo, crushing the competition, which was all repeats, in prime-time's first hour. ABC was second best with a 2.0/6 for "Modern Family" and a 1.6/4 for "The Middle," beating CBS's sitcoms "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (1.4/4) and "Gary Unmarried" (1.3/4). Dramas on NBC ("Mercy," 0.9/3) and the CW ("Gossip Girl," 0.3/1, and "Life Unexpected," 0.6/2) were lower rated.

Facing policy and political challenges, the president must have felt a need to take time to make his case, so the State of the Union was relatively long, running until about 10:43 p.m. So there was plenty to analyze. But instead, the networks did what they usually do -- cede coverage to their cable competitors -- by switching to sitcom reruns right after the Republican response with "Cougar Town" on ABC (1.1/3), "Two and a Half Men" on CBS (1.3/4) and "The Office" on NBC (1.1/3).

A day before a new study by Public Policy Polling indicated that the two news operations American trust most are Fox News and CNN. Maybe results would have been better if the seasoned network news teams were given more of a chance outside of the constrictions of their traditional 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. confines.

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

Thursday: After last night, maybe Congress and the president may want to watch CBS's "Live for the Moment," which bills itself as a show about an "event that inspires a person to share insights on how to change one's life." Considering the polarized politics in Washington, it can't hurt ...
Friday: Want the best analysis of not only the State of the Union Address, but the state of the union? Watch David Brooks and Mark Shields on PBS's "Newshour."

Weak week one ratings for ABC's "The Deep End" suggest the show itself may end prematurely. It gets a second chance tonight.

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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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