What Did We Watch This Week?

Rash Report: Viewers Gravitate to Football and Fox

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Before "Monday Night Football" games, Hank Williams Jr. croons out, "Are You Ready for Some Football?" This week, fans, especially those in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, answered with a resounding "Yes! And we were ready on Sunday night too."
Starting with NBC's 'Sunday Night Football' game between the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, pigskin programming accounted for the first seven of TV's top slots.
Starting with NBC's 'Sunday Night Football' game between the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, pigskin programming accounted for the first seven of TV's top slots. Credit: AP

Counting two "Monday Night Football" games that ran on ABC's cable cousin, ESPN, NFL games, post-games, pre-games and "pre-kicks" kicked comedies and dramas down or off the list. Indeed, starting with NBC's "Sunday Night Football" game between the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, which scored a first-place 7.4/19 rating and share, pigskin programming accounted for the first seven of TV's top slots.

Alive and kicking off
Some of these "telecasts" were actually football fragments, such as Fox's "NFL Sunday Post Gun," which delivered a second-place 5.5/19, and NBC's "NFL Pre-Kick," which was third with a 5.2/15. But also included were full games, such as ESPN's "Monday Night Football" double-header, in which the Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers posted a fourth-place 5.1/15, followed by a fifth-place 4.3/15 for the Denver Broncos vs. the Oakland Raiders.

And the networks with the NFL -- not to be confused with the NFL Network, which will have its own grid of gridiron games later in the season -- have scored with what used to be relegated to cable competitors like ESPN: football analysis shows. Fox's "The OT" ran until 8 p.m. ET and was sixth with a 3.9/13. Right after that, NBC began "Football Night in America," which was right after "The OT" on this week's top-10 list with a seventh-place 3.7/11.

As for entertainment programming, the linemen creating holes for rookie runners did the same on Fox, as "Hole in the Wall" ran right after "The OT" to place eighth with a 3.5/10. Fox also took the balance of the top 10, rounding out the list with "Bones," which delivered a 3.0/9.

'Fringe' draws the curious
Just above "Bones" on the list was the program premiere of "Fringe," which debuted decently with a ninth-place 3.2/9. But the highly hyped show isn't -- at least yet -- a breakaway hit. Fox will try some scheduling stunts to get it there, including an "encore" presentation this Sunday, after two episodes of "The Simpsons," which follow, of course, football and "The OT." But it may have a hard time, despite the program platform, as it runs against NBC's "Sunday Night Football," this week's top show. "Are You Ready for Some Football?" seems so far to be this fall season's unofficial theme song.

Meanwhile, the producers of the Emmy Awards, which will run a week from Sunday on ABC, announced this week that pop star Josh Groban will perform a medley of memorable TV-show theme songs.

Every network show has a musical track, but few viewers, if any, could sing a song from the current schedules. Thus Groban's Emmy list will mostly contain classics that many, if not most, of a certain age could sing from memory, just as many viewers remember the sitcom lineups from a generation ago but can't keep track of the shifting schedules that now characterize network TV.

The themes from "The Simpsons" and "Friends" reportedly made the cut, as more recent classics, but the program premieres for these shows were 19 and 14 years ago.

Of course, these are different times, with new genres for a new generation, as witnessed by Japanese game shows like "Hole in the Wall" influencing American TV. But in pop culture, some things can keep their currency, like NFL football and yes, even theme songs. The networks are scoring with the games. What they need to do now is huddle to try to get back into the comedy game, with a sitcom that will inspire viewers to sing its praises, and maybe even its theme song.

Friday: Star-struck viewers should make ABC the top-rated network, as a special "20/20" will feature news anchor Charlie Gibson's interviews with vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Meaning it may be one of the only times that Eva Longoria Parker is ever overshadowed, as she also hosts the network's 2008 Alma Awards, honoring the best performances by Hispanics in the entertainment industry.
Saturday: NBC's "Saturday Night Live" has one of its most anticipated season premieres in years, given the show's history of mocking -- and sometimes influencing -- the presidential elections. And, oh yeah, some guy named Michael Phelps is hosting.
Sunday: Football. (What else?) After the afternoon's regional games, regional rivals Pittsburgh and Cleveland square off in a national game on NBC's "Sunday Night Football."

It's been a while since they've been called the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players," but the late-night "SNL" cast will probably get higher ratings than nearly every network show on Saturday night, with the possible exception of the USC-Ohio State football game on ABC.

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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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