Wednesday, June 25, 2003

TV viewing suffering summer slump

By Tom Dorsey
The Courier-Journal

Viewers aren't buying the networks' summer strategy to keep them in front of their TV sets, even with the recent rainy weather keeping many people indoors.

Most of the plan revolves around new reality shows, but they don't seem to be keeping people glued to the tube. Not one of the new reality shows is among the top-10 programs in the latest Nielsen poll.

The best showing was by NBC's Last Comic Standing, which was No. 14 for the week but drew less than 10 million viewers.

Viewers seem to be sampling the new summer reality shows and then abandoning them. NBC's For Love or Money was No. 23 in the most recent survey, and Fox's American Juniors was No. 24, but both shows were down 25 percent in their second showings.

That sharp drop indicates they may slip even further in future weeks. It's obvious that American Juniors, a children's edition of American Idol, is no Idol in the ratings. For Love or Money may be suffering from the unromantic revelation that its bachelor star was tossed out of a naval training program for groping a female trainee. Two female contestants on that show even suggested he had roaming hands on For Love or Money, according to TV Guide.

CBS' Amazing Race 4, the best of the summer reality shows, was No. 31 with just over 8 million viewers. Fame dropped from No. 18 to No. 36 and lost about 2.5 million viewers. The return of Dog Eat Dog didn't fair much better with an audience of 7.4 million in the No. 37 spot. A Fear Factor rerun was No. 90.

"Instead of growing, they've either leveled off or are dropping," an ABC executive told USA Today. "There are too many of the same shows on the air."

Ten reality shows taken as a group, however, did attract about 70 million viewers. How many people were watching more than one of the shows isn't known, but probably a lot.

The few new nonreality programs didn't do much better. Fox's Keen Eddie, about an American police officer (played by Mark Valley)in London, plummeted from No. 43 in its debut to 70 in the rankings, losing 2.6 million viewers along the way. The premiere of CBS' Charles Lawrence, with Nathan Lane as a gay congressman, came in at No. 74 in the ratings with an audience of only about 4.7 million.

Prime-time ratings for the six broadcast networks are down almost one-third over the end of the regular season, which is about the same loss they experienced last summer. The big four networks were up slightly, meaning that WB and UPN were doing worse.

But the missing viewers apparently weren't watching cable, which was up only slightly. Nielsens for the top-10 cable channels were down 10 percent compared with last summer.

Overall, TV watching was off by 13 percent, indicating that the usual summer slump in now in session.

What were people watching if not the new programming? The same shows they saw earlier in the season for the most part. CSI, starring William Petersen, was the most-watched program in the last survey, just as it has been for a couple of years. Everybody Loves Raymond was No. 2 and CSI: Miami was third, with a repeat of Wednesday's Law & Order at fourth and Still Standing at fifth.

News magazines, which feature some new stories, did well. Dateline (Monday's edition) was eighth with CBS' 48 Hours ninth. Also in the top 10 were the National Basketball Association championship game No. 6, Without a Trace No. 7 and Law & Order: SVU No. 10.

Talk show guests

Live with Regis and Kelly (9 a.m., Channel 9): Melina Kanakeredes, Simon Cowell.

Wayne Brady (10 a.m., Channel 9): Ryan Reynolds.

The View (11 a.m., Channel 9): Peter Boyle.

Caroline Rhea (3 p.m., Channel 19): Courtney Thorne-Smith, Margaret Colin.

TV Data contributed to this report.

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