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Posted at 06:53 PM ET, 09/19/2011

Emmy Awards attract 12.5 million, lowest since 2008


New co-stars Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher present at the Emmys (Kevin Winter - GETTY IMAGES)

Against a rousing football game on NBC, Fox’s broadcast of the Primetime Emmy Awards attracted an average of only 12.5 million people — the trophy show’s smallest audience since its famously disastrous 2008 broadcast on ABC.

Last year’s Emmy show bagged about 1 million more viewers than Sunday’s, according to early reports (final national stats won’t be in until Tuesday morning).

Meanwhile, an estimated 18 million viewers watched quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons defeat Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, 35-31, on NBC Sunday night, according to Nielsen’s early educated-guesstimates.

The game marked Vick’s return to Atlanta to face his former team — the first time he’d done so as a starting quarterback.

Against that kind of drama, this year’s Emmy host Jane Lynch — and the celebrity back-up-singer group calling itself the EmmyTones for the night — hadn’t a prayer.

Sunday night’s award-fest seemed to peak between 8:30 and 9 p.m. — right around the time of that “surprise” appearance by fired “Two and a Half Men” star Charlie Sheen. He proceeded to give a riveting performance as a fairly normal, reasonable guy, telling America that he wished the team behind “Men” the very best luck this TV season.

The surge seemed to last until about 9:30 — right around the time Sheen’s “Men” replacement, Ashton Kutcher, appeared as a presenter with his new “Men” co-star Jon Cryer and immediately secured the night’s win for Most Disturbing Lack of Chemistry.

Ratings-wise, the ceremony went downhill from there. Because, it turns out, a limited number of people are excited by even the surprise win of Kyle Chandler, star of the barely watched “Friday Night Lights.” He was named the year’s best drama-series actor, after TV industry navel-lint pickers had been so sure that this would be the year “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm finally took the derby because he’d submitted an episode in which, yes, he wept.

Also failing to ignite the viewing masses in the ceremony’s final spurt was PBS’s “Downton Abbey’s” David-vs.-Goliath victory over HBO’s “Mildred Pierce” for best movie or miniseries; ABC’s “Modern Family’s” repeat win as best comedy series; and, of course, “Mad Men’s” continuing to exert its death grip on the best drama series competition.

By then, there were just about 10.6 million people still tuned in to the Primetime Emmy Awards, early stats show.

Back in 2008, when the widespread dispensing of Emmys produced similarly depressed ratings results, the ceremony had been plagued with myriad problems.

For starters, the TV academy decided that it would be great if a herd of reality-series hosts — Ryan Seacrest, Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron and Howie Mandel — hosted the three-hour program. Then, compounding the problem, those hosts got together and decided it would be fun to throw out the planned opening bit they’d been given by the show’s writers and producers and, instead, wing it without any prepared material. At least that’s how Seacrest tells it.

Also negatively impacting the ratings that year: The big story at the Emmys was AMC’s “Mad Men,” which bagged its first best drama series Emmy — arguably the biggest derby of the TV competition. Unfortunately for ABC, “Mad Men’s” loyal audience in those days amounted to about 1 million people, which left the country’s 299 million-ish other people not so interested.

Plus, the 2008 Emmy broadcast aired on the eve of the new television season, as the broadcast networks struggled to bounce back after a lousy 2007-08 TV season hampered by the writers’ strike.

On the bright side, Fox noted niche-ily Monday, this year’s Emmy broadcast scored the franchise’s highest rating in four years among 18- to 34-year-olds — which was the last time Fox aired the trophy show.

By  |  06:53 PM ET, 09/19/2011

 
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