CBS Holds the Key to a Lock on the Ratings Race

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CBS won its third consecutive week in the prime-time ratings race and the die is cast for the rest of 2008. Television schedules are going to hold fairly steady for the next couple of months because the networks don't have much else to go to: Midseason shows won't be ready until early next year, thanks to that 100-day writers' strike. With nothing on the horizon to suggest radical change, CBS will continue to stay out front.

Here's a look at the week's hot and not:


"Eleventh Hour" attracted 12 million viewers but only retained 62 percent of its "CSI" lead-in on Thursday. That's not the kind of retention a network hopes for, but the previous week "Eleventh Hour" kept only 48 percent of its "CSI" lead-in. This is the TV-industry equivalent of resurrection from the dead. Friday morning, when CBS execs saw the numbers, they declared it National We Don't Have to Call Jerry Bruckheimer to Tell Him We're Canceling His New Series Day. And there was much rejoicing.

David Letterman. GOP presidential candidate John McCain's kiss-and-make-up appearance on Dave's CBS late-night show brought in more than 6.5 million viewers, his biggest audience since the kiss-and-make-up episode with Oprah on Dec. 1, 2005, and, weirdly, the biggest haul of 18-to-34-year-olds since May 1, when Democratic candidate Barack Obama read the show's Top 10 List.

"Mad Men." AMC renewed its smoky period drama for a third season of 13 episodes. Now if it can seal deals with the cast and creator, AMC may actually get a third season of the show.

"Knight Rider." NBC ordered the back nine episodes of its talking-car series, which grew stronger in its time slot last week because Fox preempted "Bones." As an exec from another network likes to say, a stupid pickup is a win for every other network. On the other hand, what other prime-time series stars a product? The placement payback possibilities are seemingly endless on this series.

"Crusoe" handed NBC its best non-Olympics ratings in the 9 p.m. Friday slot since February, doing 53 percent better there than "America's Toughest Jobs" earlier in the fall. A crowd of 7.4 million viewers looks great when you're getting it with an international co-production that doesn't cost you a lot.

"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." Who says Fox has no sense of irony? The network announced it had picked up the back nine episodes of the series the morning after the show scored its smallest audience ever.

"Dexter." Showtime picked up the serial-killer drama for two more seasons of 12 episodes each.


World Series. The instant the seventh game of the American League Championship Series came to a close, The Reporters Who Cover Television hit "send" on their pre-written pieces, forecasting a lowest-rated-ever World Series. Sunday's game clocked 13.4 million viewers -- the most watched baseball game in cable history. But it leaves the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays fighting for the Series tiara and, the reporters note, both are East Coast teams -- usually bad for ratings -- and not in Top Five markets -- always bad. Now, ratings soothsayers predict, Fox's only hope is a seven-game series.

CW Outsourced Sunday. CWOS logged just 692,000 viewers in its most recent outing. That's the network's smallest crowd since Super Bowl Sunday, when CW averaged 620,000 viewers in prime time. The network did better Sunday numbers over the summer with third- and fourth-run repeats. The last week before Outsourced Sunday debuted, for instance, CW logged 1.35 million viewers -- almost double this most recent performance -- with reruns of "One Tree Hill," "Privileged" and "Top Model."

"Life on Mars." Viewers sampled ABC's time-travel drama with its all-star cast and walked away, causing it to plunge from its premiere audience of 11.3 million to 8.2 million in its second outing.

"Opportunity Knocks." And then, it doesn't. Lousy ratings got this reality series yanked. This week, ABC aired a "Dancing With the Stars" recap in the time slot; next week, Charlie Brown's Halloween special.

The week's 10 most watched shows, in order, were: CBS's "CSI" and "NCIS"; ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" and "Desperate Housewives"; CBS's "The Mentalist"; ABC's "Dancing" results show and "Grey's Anatomy"; CBS's "Two and a Half Men" and "60 Minutes"; and TBS's ALCS Game 7.

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Nickelodeon has declared Democrat Barack Obama the winner of its 2008 Kids Pick the President online ballot. A record 2.2 million votes were cast in what the cable network noted is not a scientific poll. Indeed, it's not even a poll, what with no way to prevent people from voting more than once -- kind of like "American Idol" -- and no methodology to make sure those voting are really kids.

Even so, the news media, as usual, made much of the fact that in this year's Nickelodeon faux whatever-it-is, Obama received 51 percent of the vote and Republican John McCain 49 percent. And Nickelodeon noted it has held a "Kids' Vote" every election year since 1988, and the results have correctly predicted the winner in four out of those five U.S. presidential campaigns. Last time, the voters picked John Kerry.

"Nick News" host Linda Ellerbee put out a statement yesterday saying, "It's important to take note of who won the 'Kids' Vote,' simply because so many kids vote the way their parents will."

"But," she added, "what really counts is this: They participated in democracy. They voted. How can this be anything but good?"

We'll take a pass on that.

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