Reality's Not So Hot for ABC

Tue Mar 18, 8:45 PM ET
By Joal Ryan

As anyone who's watched coverage of the looming war can attest, there is such a thing as too much reality TV.

ABC, its lineup stacked with real people vying to be hailed for their hotness, rewarded for their backstabbing, or crowned for their ability to add and fill out a bathing suit, posted one of its worst showings of the season for the prime-time week ended Sunday.

The Alphabet's shows averaged just 7.8 million viewers, fourth among the Big Four networks, and down 25 percent from the 10.5 million ABC's been bringing in for the season to date.

A quartet of new reality shows spelled doom for ABC: Are You Hot? The Search for America's Sexiest People (72nd place, 6.9 million viewers); the amped-up Miss America-style contest All American Girl (76th place, 6.7 million); producer Jerry Bruckheimer's behind-the-battle-scenes series Profiles from the Front Line (79th place, 6.6 million); and the Dynasty-aspiring The Family (81st place, 6.1 million).

The mumbling you hear is ABC execs counting the days until their proven reality hit, The Bachelor, returns. The third edition of the matrimonial-minded show, featuring an heir to the Firestone tire empire, is scheduled to debut March 26.

When it comes to reality TV, real-world international crises apparently take precedence. An address by President Bush on Monday night, in which he issued Iraq's Saddam Hussein a final war ultimatum, was watched by an estimated 73.3 million.

Overall, real pretty people doing real neat things, like sliding down the side of a Vegas casino, la NBC's Fear Factor (eighth place, 18.3 million), is what prime time is about these days. Reality shows accounted for nearly half of the week's top 10.

Fox's American Idol led the way for the genre. Its Tuesday night competition, in which the 12 finalists moaned Motown, was watched by 22 million (second place); its Wednesday night wrap-up, in which the elimination of the red-hued Vanessa Olivarez left 11 finalists, attracted another 18.3 million (ninth place).

CBS, scoring with Survivor: Amazon (third place, 21.1 million), was the week's most watched network, averaging 12.4 million viewers. NBC trailed with 11.9; Fox, with 10 million.

Proving its own touch with reality TV is not infallible, Fox's Married by America continued to divorce itself of audiences--71st place, 6.9 million viewers.

Two new sitcoms, CBS' My Big Fat Greek Life and Fox's Oliver Beene, failed to build on their big premieres, although both did respectable business--Greek Life finished 24th (12.4 million); Beene, 33rd place (11 million).

Owing to its lousy week, ABC's scripted shows fared about as poorly as the net's unscripted ones. Its top performer, My Wife and Kids, "soared" to 36th place, with 10.8 million viewers, per the weekly ABC ratings release.

Over at NBC, its once dominant Thursday night lineup looked as such: once dominant. Only Friends (fourth place, 21 million) and ER (fifth place, 20.9 million) maintained their top 10 status, with Will & Grace (14th place, 15 million) and Good Morning, Miami (22nd place, 12.6 million) falling to CBS' top-rated CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (first place, 28.9 million).

CBS' The District, in its first broadcast since the death of costar Lynne Thigpen, was the most watched show of Saturday night--41st place, 10.2 million.

Elsewhere, the WB outdrew UPN, 3.1 million viewers to 2.6 million. Even worse, UPN saw three of its shows, a couple of Twilight Zone repeats and a Friday night movie special, outdrawn by a Diagnosis Murder rerun on PAX.

Here's a rundown of the 10 most watched shows for the week ended Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research:

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 28.6 million
2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 22 million
3. Survivor: Amazon, CBS, 21.1 million
4. Friends, NBC, 21 million
5. ER, NBC, 20.9 million
6. Everybody Loves Raymond (news - Y! TV), CBS, 19.5 million
7. CSI: Miami, CBS, 19 million
8. Fear Factor, NBC, 18.304 million
9. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 18.302 million
10. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, NBC, 17 million