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Ratings Dive In 2006-07 Season

DVRs, Daylight Saving blamed; only 13 series log gains

By Jim Benson

They acknowledge that creative difficulties for some shows, including Fox’s 24 and ABC’s Lost, and increased competition also likely played a significant role in the declines. Only 13 series saw gains this season.

Many strong series were forced to face off against each other, crammed together to avoid American Idol, which remains a powerhouse despite weakened ratings.

To steer clear of Idol on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the networks squeezed most of television’s top shows into three jam-packed nights—Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays—during the second half of the season.

With Fridays becoming a graveyard and Saturdays now considered the “loneliest night of the week,” as CBS chief Leslie Moonves once famously put it, there was nowhere else to go.

Competition on the three key nights was so intense that shows still considered to be “hot” occasionally finished fourth.

Even ABC’s heavily hyped Grey’s Anatomy, which ties with Fox’s House as the top-rated scripted series, saw its 18-49 ratings erode 9%, from an 8.9 the previous season on Sundays to an 8.1 at 9 p.m. Thursdays. CBS’ CSI, which went against it, sank 21%, from an 8.4 to a 6.6.

“There are a lot of good shows facing a lot of good competition,” says a network executive, who asked not to be identified. “It used to be that they could be spread out over an entire week, but there’s not a lot of open real estate anymore.”

Even without much in the way of strong competition, Idol saw its still hefty adult 18-49 ratings shrink 7% this season on Tuesdays (from 12.9 to 12.0). That was still good enough to boost lead-out House 19%, to 8.1. The medial show created buzz when it caught up with its once invincible lead-in toward the end of the season. On Wednesdays, Idol remained flat at a 12.3.

And last week’s season finale of Idol—which culminated in the anti-climactic crowning of Jordin Sparks during a bloated telecast that ran nine minutes long (negatively impacting ratings for the local newscasts that followed)—plunged 19%, from a 14.2 rating/35 share a year ago to an 11.5/31.

ABC performed worse with the season finale of Lost. Airing against the second hour of Idol from 9 to 10:09 p.m. Wednesday, it dove 22% to a 5.9/15 from a 7.6/18 last May. For the entire season, however, ratings for Lost were down just 3%, from 6.5 to 6.3.

The difficulties this season for most new and returning serialized dramas, including ABC’s Desperate Housewives (plummeting 26%, to 6.9 from 9.3), did not affect NBC’s freshman serial Heroes, which was the top-rated new series.

Continuing a trend that made serialized fare like Lost, Housewives and Grey’s hits in recent years, Heroes ranked as the seventh-highest-rated network series overall, with a 6.4/15.

Google Plays 'Jeopardy!’

In a unique pairing, Google and Jeopardy! will collaborate on a marketing venture allowing viewers to find the correct questions on the online search engine to answers provided by the syndicated quiz show.

Beginning June 4, the “Jeopardy! Google Daily Challenge” will offer viewers the chance to win daily prizes and a grand prize of $25,000 by entering them into a sweepstakes.

Players will be asked to visit the show’s Website (Jeopardy.com) and use a Google search to find the correct response to a clue provided on that day’s original episode. New clues will appear on Jeopardy.com through July 13.

“This is a great collaboration for Google that we hope our users will have fun with,” says Google Product Manager Dylan Casey.—Jim Benson

NAB, NCTA Join To Fight FCC

The FCC’s push to control violent TV content has united two groups that historically do battle: the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the National Association of Broadcasters.

The two associations, joined by the Motion Picture Association of America, were already pushing the V-chip/ratings system as the best way for parents to control their kids’ access to sexual and violent content. But last week, they went a step further and hired a renowned Constitutional lawyer, Laurence Tribe, to fight a potential government crackdown on TV violence. Tribe will spearhead the media’s defense and, according to a broadcast-network source, will argue not only against content regulation in general but also against à la carte specifically.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has been pushing the cable industry to adopt à la carte at seemingly every opportunity.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) plans to reintroduce a bill to give the FCC power to regulate TV violence, although Rockefeller is no fan of à la carte.

A hearing is expected in June, with Tribe slated to make the media’s case.

—John Eggerton

Jackson Oral Argument Set

A decision on CBS’ appeal of the FCC fine for Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” won’t come until late in the year.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia has set Sept. 11 for oral argument, CBS confirms.

The FCC had pushed for an expedited hearing on the Jackson incident last August but did not even get to file its briefs until December 2006. The FCC has essentially been awaiting the court’s decision before moving on any other profanity decisions. “Who knows how many complaints they have yet to act on,” says one attorney who has represented broadcasters in indecency cases.

CBS paid the $550,000 fine (a prerequisite to its appeal), apologized and instituted safeguards to prevent a repeat of the reveal. Even so, the network says the incident was not indecent.

—John Eggerton

Iraq Still Tops TV News Coverage

MSNBC devoted 31% of its news hole to covering Iraq, CNN 25% and Fox 15%.

The three nightly broadcast-network newscasts were virtually identical in devoting about a quarter of their time to the Iraq war (ABC 27%, CBS 24% and NBC 26%).

Among all news outlets studied—broadcast, cable, print and online—Democratic presidential candidates got three times as much coverage as their Republican counterparts, with most attention focused on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Most were “horse-race” stories, not issue-oriented.

Of the three major 24-hour cable news channels, Fox News spent the most time on Anna Nicole Smith’s death, devoting a tenth of its news hole in the first quarter to the story versus 6% for MSNBC and 4% for CNN.—John Eggerton

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