On Monday night something fairly strange happened; low-rated network NBC won the night’s overall ratings. They did so on the basis of a two-hour episode of Dateline, and an episode of Medium (a show NBC has cancelled and which will appear on CBS next year. NBC won by averaging 7.34 million viewers, followed by CBS with 7.23 million, ABC with 5.66 million (ouch!) and Fox with 5.07 million.
However, the real news came out with the full night’s ratings. NBC might have won the night, but the evening’s highest rated program was on cable, to wit the season premiere of a TLC show called Jon and Kate Plus 8, a reality series about a married couple raising eight small kids (some adopted), won the night with a pretty astounding 9.8 million viewers. That’s big. For instance, the highest rated cable show the week before was an NBA finals game on TNT, which drew 6.3 million.
Jon & Kate’s ratings were presumably boosted by an infidelity scandal (one that even I, who assiduously works to avoid such things, has heard of) that has the titular couple’s marriage on shaky ground. In any case, that rating was high enough to quite possibly earn the show a spot on Nielson’s Top Ten this week,* a fact the networks can’t be happy about.
As network ratings continue to slip, this is a portent of things to come. And again, the networks are still working off a model that was created back in the days of The Big Three Networks, when there were far fewer entertainment options (no home computers or video games, for instance), and 95% of the viewing audience was on any given evening split up amongst ABC, CBS and NBC.
This no longer holds true. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; a model created in the days when there was a mass culture cannot be sustained in a day when there isn’t one. Something’s got to give. The problem was made ignorable for a while by booming DVD sales, especially for TV programs, but those are slipping now too, making it increasingly impossible to paper over the basic issue.
DVD sales have more directly been a savior for the movie industry, however. Some years ago Hollywood started making more money from DVDs than from theater box office receipts for new movies. This year they’ve been riding high, presumably because of the recession, which has people going to movies as a comparatively cheap entertainment option.
However, it was only a matter of time until things hit a bump, especially since with the exception of Star Trek (a 95% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes), all the big summer movies seem to have been mediocre fare. I can’t prove this, but it always struck me as likely that if you go to see five movies in a row and they’re all lame, sooner or later you start losing interest in getting back to the theaters. (Same in reverse, of course, but how often is there a streak of really good movies?)
Aside from Star Trek (again, 95% at RT), the big summer movies have been Wolverine (36%), Angels & Demons (37%), Night at the Museum 2 (45%), Terminator Salvation (33%). Then there are the second rank movies, which aren’t any better: Dance Flick (28%), Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (28%), Obsessed (20%), etc. The highest rated mainstream film aside from Star Trek this summer has been 18 Again, with a fairly lame 56%.
Perhaps because of this, the holiday weekend just past was disappointing. Night at the Museum 2 drew 70 million, beating Terminator Salvation with a not exactly super 65 million after opening mid-week (drawing only $51 million over the weekend itself). Worse for TS, it cost a lot more than Museum, $200 million vs. 150 million. Worse yet, both movies combined drew about what Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull raked in the same weekend last year; and at roughly half the price of the two separate movies. Hollywood’s been doing well all year, but things are still so tight that even one moderately bad weekend like this has some fretting.
Luckily, just when it’s most needed, some strong films are finally arriving, and may turn things around. Up is being hailed by many as the best Pixar movie so far—a bold claim—and Sam Raimi’s return to the horror movie, Drag Me Down to Hell, currently has a whopping RT score of 93%. Hopefully that will tide things over when the next crop of blah movies (am I the only one who thinks the Taking of Pelham One Two Three remake looks awful?) inevitably comes along.