TV's Taking a Global Approach to Prime Time

Rash Report: But Top 10 Is Still All American

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- Former Finnish president turned diplomat Martti Ahtisaari, who won the Nobel Peace Prize this morning, is being lauded for trying to bring people together through internationalism. Kind of sounds like prime time this week.
NBC's American version of the Australian hit 'Kath & Kim' premiered Thursday night.
NBC's American version of the Australian hit 'Kath & Kim' premiered Thursday night. Credit: NBC

Sure, the stakes aren't as high, as the Nielsen ratings race pales in comparison to winning the peace in tough neighborhoods such as Namibia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and in Indonesia, which are just some of the global hot spots Ahtisaari has tried to cool. But culturally, if not politically, American prime-time TV is also increasingly international, as program concepts or constructs come from nearly every continent.

This summer, for instance, saw an American version of Japan's "Wipeout," the absurdist obstacle-course game show, be one of the only successful summer series. Tomorrow night CBS will run its translated tale of Israel's "The Ex-List."

And last night "Survivor," the stateside hit spawned from Europe's "Expedition Robinson," continued its season in the west African country of Gabon and won its timeslot with a 4.3/12 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, which would have placed it just out of the top 10 list at 11.

There were also three new series taking their first bow last night, with two of them being cultural imports: ABC's "Life on Mars," a remake of an English series, had its program premiere in the 10 p.m. hour and delivered a 3.8/10, which was the highest-rated drama debut in the demo this year. But indicative of the new season's struggles, the rating for "Life on Mars" was 16% below the debut performance for last year's highly hyped "Big Shots," a drama about Manhattan money swagger that looks even more ridiculous today than it did when the stock market was 40% higher.

"Life on Mars" orbited out of lead-in "Grey's Anatomy," which was down 26% from its debut two weeks ago, but still strong enough to finish fifth with a fast-affiliate rating of 5.5/13. Thursday night also had the program premiere of "Kath and Kim," NBC's American version of the Australian hit. Most critics carped that perhaps something got lost down under, but the poorly reviewed show improved nearly 19% on lead-in "My Name Is Earl," as "Kath and Kim" delivered a 3.2/9 to finish 34th for the week. Leading out of "Kath and Kim" was another global phenomenon, the American version of the U.K. classic "The Office" (ninth, 4.6/11).

But the top-rated NBC show last night was a prime-time Thursday night version of what's usually a late-night Saturday show: "Weekend Update Thursday." The short version of what is usually a 90-minute show was seventh with a fast affiliate 5.0/12 -- and it didn't even have Tina Fey channeling Sarah Palin. Instead, it mercilessly mocked the presidential candidates, as well as NBC's own Tom Brokaw, who moderated Tuesday's debate.

That debate, of course, was the week's highest-rated telecast, watched by 63.2 million Americans, which was 21% more than the first clash between candidates but still 9% less than the veep version. And like much of prime time, globalism seeped in with many of the town hall questions centered on the interconnected world from the valleys of northwest Pakistan to the skyscraper canyons of Wall Street.

But, as always, it was the campaign's cliche of Main Street that dominated the discourse. And in prime time, many TV viewers still preferred all-American video violence, be it CBS's police procedurals such as "CSI," this week's top telecast with a 7.0/17 fast-affiliate rating, or its other members of the force, "CSI: NY" (10th, 4.3/12) or "CSI Miami" (tied for 16th with a 4.0/10).

Or, if the fictionalized violence didn't work, there was always the real thing: NFL football, which, as usual this fall, placed two games and one post-game in the top 10. CBS's "Post-Gun" (even the post-game shows have menacing titles) was second for the week with a 5.8/18. NBC's "Sunday Night Football" and ESPN's "Monday Night Football" were fourth and eighth, respectively, as Sunday's Pittsburgh Steelers victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars scored a 5.5/14 and Monday's Minnesota Vikings victory over the New Orleans Saints notched a 4.6/12.

Two other American programs made the top 10 list, but even these had universal themes of miscommunication between genders and generations. Third with a 5.8/13 was ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and in sixth were the type of guys who make them feel that way, CBS's "Two and a Half Men" (5.1/12).

As for new Nobel laureate Martti Ahtisaari, it's unlikely he has seen much, if any of these shows, as his cosmopolitan tastes probably lean more towards futbol than football and his BBC viewing is more likely "Masterpiece Theater" than "Life on Mars."

And he's probably been too busy anyway. But just in case he's not, how about his next hot spot not be in a nation's political capitol, but the world's financial one, as it will take considerable diplomacy (and considerable cash) to rescue capitalism from the great crash of 2008.

Even if you're not a big sports fan, the election and stock stress may mean it's a good time for prime-time escapism with contests that have clear winners and losers, let alone rules of play. So substitute media maniacs like "Mad Money's" Jim Cramer and "Hardball's" Chris Matthews for John Madden, Al Michaels and other sportscasters:
Friday: The American League Championship Series between the worst-to-first Tampa Bay Rays and the World Series defending champs Boston Red Sox starts on TBS as the National League version between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies continues on Fox.
Saturday: Nascar Sprint Cup Series runs on ABC and on CBS, SEC rivals Florida and Louisiana State University collide.
Sunday: The Phillies go Hollywood as the NLCS moves to L.A. And on NBC, the San Diego Chargers tackle the New England Patriots on "Sunday Night Football."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Higher viewing levels in the next few months, as Americans open their 401K statements, gasp, and then forgo dinner and a movie for TV dinners and, well, TV.

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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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