“Law & Order: SVU’s” February “sweeps” stunt, in which convicted rapist Mike Tyson was cast as an abuse victim, appears to have backfired, ratings-wise.
About 5.2 million people watched Wednesday’s episode. That’s the long-running NBC drama’s smallest audience for an original, regularly scheduled episode.
Tyson played a death-row inmate who was a victim of childhood abuse and who murdered one of his abusers. The episode finished dead last in its time slot among the major broadcast nets.
NBC doesn’t talk much about its overall audience, preferring to discuss 18-to-49-year-old viewers, who are the currency of prime-time ad sales. Here, too, the show suffered a record low for an original, regularly scheduled episode.
Before the episode aired, about 7,000 people signed a petition asking NBC to recast the role. The petition was created by an ardent “SVU” fan who is a rape survivor and who said she felt betrayed by the stunt casting. Among those who signed the petition: “NCIS” star and abuse survivor Pauley Perrette.
Tyson was arrested in 1991 and charged with raping then-18-year-old Miss Black America pageant competitor Desiree Washington; he was convicted and served three years of a six-year prison sentence.
Seen on Katie Couric’s syndicated talk show the day after his guest gig, Tyson continued to deny having committed the rape, as he did in an interview with TV Guide magazine shortly before the episode aired.
“I didn’t do anything to her,” Tyson told Couric, adding, “I took advantage of women, but never took advantage of her.”
Couric’s mostly female audience applauded, and Couric noted that Tyson is still being “hounded” by the conviction, introducing the petition motif.
“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” Tyson conceded of that effort to get his role recast.
NBC ignored the petition request but did move the episode — which originally was scheduled to air next week — after learning that the date was the eve of a global event in support of rape and abuse survivors.
“Law & Order: SVU” wasn’t the only show to experience a ratings setback Wednesday night, though not on quite the same scale.
“American Idol” and “Modern Family,” for instance, both scored some of their smallest ratings in years. And TV-industry pundits spent a portion of Thursday navel-gazing about the unusually low rate of people watching TV on a night awash in original programming.
“Why do you think you were violent towards women, or tended to be abusive to women?” Couric asked Tyson during the pre-recorded interview.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no!” Tyson responded, making it seven in all.
“In your past,” Couric hastened to add.
“No, listen — I was violent towards everybody,” he explained.
NBC’s “Today” show has beat ABC’s “Good Morning America” four of the past five weeks among 25-to-54-year-old viewers. So “GMA” was particularly happy to announce that Robin Roberts would be back in time for the last week of the February sweeps ratings race.
“GMA” host George Stephanopoulos made the announcement on Thursday’s show. No less than Hillary Clinton, Denzel Washington, Sally Field, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lopez and the cast of “Modern Family” weighed in with taped congrats to Robin on her return, which also will happen four days before ABC’s broadcast of the Academy Awards, pretty much ensuring a “GMA” ratings victory.
It was one year ago at the Oscars that Roberts said she started feeling poorly, and that one of her goals was to be back in time for this year’s Academy Awards, which are broadcast annually on ABC.
Roberts began medical leave from the show in August to undergo a bone-marrow transplant after receiving a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a rare blood disorder.
Last April, “GMA” put an end to “Today’s” 16-year weekly ratings winning streak (and last July ended its streak among 25- to 54-year-olds).
This season, “GMA” has averaged more viewers than “Today” every week. But “Today” has clawed its way back in the key age bracket.
To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/