Scripted Series Scarce on Nielsen's 2008 Top Tens

Reality, sports dominate TV lists in Nielsen’s year-end rankings

Nielsen’s top 10 lists for 2008 are in, and scripted fare didn’t fare too well against its reality- and sports-based competition.

And with reality giant American Idol seeing its ratings slip this year, sports broadcasts—and not just Olympics coverage—took the gold for single-telecast viewership this year.

Among the top 10 regularly scheduled programs, only three are scripted series, down from five in 2007. The three scripted series to make the list, CSI, NCIS, and freshman entry The Mentalist, are all procedurals from the CBS, giving the Tiffany network five of the top ten regularly scheduled series.

Fox’s American Idol and ABC’s Dancing With the Stars maintained their hold on the top four spots, while CBS’ Survivor and 60 Minutes took two spots away from scripted fair. 

Sports programs also saw gain on the top 10 single telecasts. Fox’s football broadcasts, including Super Bowl XLII and its post-game show, claimed four of the top five slots, while Olympics coverage took four. Idol, which held seven of the single-telecast slots, fell off the list entirely.

When it comes to timeshifting, scripted fare does much better, claiming seven of the top 10 timeshifted primetime programs. The results also suggest an age factor, as the top three time-shifted programs—NBC’s Heroes, Fox’s Fringe and ABC’s Lost—are aimed squarely at the 18-49 demo. Meanwhile, audiences for the top scripted shows on the regularly-scheduled program list all have median ages above 50—54 for CSI, 56 for The Mentalist and 58 for NCIS. (See lists of the Top-10 shows by median age.)

But age doesn’t explain all. Unlike 2006, when The CW accounted for five of the top 10 timeshifted programs, the network’s 18-34–demo targeted programs were completely absent from the list this year.

However, The CW did place on the “Top 10 Programs with Product Placement Activity,” which measures total number of product-placement occurrences.  Not only did America’s Next Top Model rank number seven (2,241 occurrences), but the network can claim the only scripted series on the list, One Tree Hill, ranking number five with 2,575 occurrences.

And even as scripted series increasingly embrace product integration, reality series—all from ABC and Bravo, in fact—were the only ones to make the “Top 10 Most Effective Product Placements on Brand Opinion” list.