washingtonpost.com  > Columns > TV Column

Viewers Click Off the Little Golden Gramophone

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, February 15, 2005; Page C07

CBS's 4 1/2-hour tribute to the dead, aka the 47th Annual Grammy Awards, got knocked off by ABC's "Desperate Housewives" Sunday night.

The Grammycast clocked its smallest numbers in a decade among viewers of all ages, as well as in the coveted 18-to-49 demographic group that CBS used to say was not its focus but which the network now admits targeting -- now that it's actually attracting them.

Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony's sad duet didn't help the Grammy Awards hang onto viewers. (Kevork Djansezian -- AP)

Grammy's total audience of 18.8 million is a 28 percent plunge from last year's 26.3 million and the franchise's smallest audience since 1995, when the ceremony ran on a Wednesday night.

Of course, ratings for last year's Grammycast got goosed by the whole see-Justin-bare-Janet's-right-breast Super Bowl halftime thing just a couple of weeks earlier.

Both Justin Timberlake -- who had ripped off part of Janet Jackson's costume during the halftime show, thereby condemning millions of American children to lives of crime and debauchery -- and Jackson were scheduled to participate in last year's Grammy broadcast. But at the eleventh hour CBS stuck by Timberlake and dumped Jackson because, little girls, it's a man's world and the sooner you learn that the better off you'll be.

Anyway, last year's Grammy show enjoyed a four-year high as viewers tuned in to see what music superstars would have to say about the controversy and the banishment of Janet. (Surprisingly little, it turned out, because rockers may be "dangerous," but they're not stupid.)

Speaking of "Dangerous," too bad CBS didn't line up Janet's brother Michael to perform at this year's Grammy Awards, in the 9 p.m. hour. That's when the Grammython got whacked by an original episode of "Desperate Housewives," which logged more than 22 million viewers to the Grammys' 19 million in that hour. Michael Jackson is a staple of the February ratings derby; ABC knows this from experience and scheduled another of those incendiary Martin Bashir documentaries on the pop star this month.

The Grammycast didn't just lack controversy. (Heck, they couldn't even get a rise out of top nominee Kanye West, who threw a hissy fit at the American Music Awards in November and who had arrived at Sunday's ceremony with a whopping 10 nominations but went home with only three trophies.) Also hurting the show's numbers was its domination by Ray Charles, who mopped up posthumously with eight wins, including album of the year and record of the year. While it's nice that the recording academy gave Charles some long overdue love, for a broadcast that's all about sucking up as many young viewers as possible, the result is toxic.

The downer theme continued throughout the night. Joss Stone and Melissa Etheridge paid tribute to the late Janis Joplin, Bono paid tribute to his dead dad, and a southern-rock tribute included surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, which lost key members in a fiery '70s plane crash, and the Allman Brothers Band.

But perhaps the biggest downer was the much-ballyhooed duet between real-life couple -- although maybe not after Sunday night -- J. Lo and Marc Anthony. They sang what must have been a very sad song; at least they seemed very unhappy, though we did not understand the words because it was sung in Spanish. Grammy.com says the song was "Escapemonos," which means "let's escape" -- presumably a reference to the Comfort Inn room they appeared to be trapped in throughout the number.

The Grammys is the second trophy show in a few weeks to feel the might of ABC's "Desperate Housewives."

Last month, the forty-something babes of Wisteria Lane stripped NBC's broadcast of the Golden Globes Awards of a whopping 10 million viewers compared with its 2004 performance.

ABC's Academy Awards broadcast later this month may suffer a similar fate, not because it faces "Desperate Housewives" (even in its dumbest days -- that would be the late '90s and early this century -- ABC wouldn't be stupid enough to counter-program itself with "Desperate Housewives") but because this year's list of nominees is pretty ho-hum and distinctly lacking in big box office receipts.

This may explain why film academy members are down on their knees with thanks that the host of this year's broadcast is Chris Rock, who has been working overtime shooting off his mouth in ways designed to bring more viewers, particularly younger ones, to the telecast.

Most recently, he told Entertainment Weekly that he never watches the Oscars because "it's a fashion show. . . . What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars? Show me one. . . . Nothing against people who aren't straight, but what straight guy that you know cares? Who gives a [expletive]? They're clothes. I'm wearing Sean John, by the way -- help out the black designer, fine. Like Armani needs me to wear a [expletive] tux to help them out."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company