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2006: The Battle for Monday - March 2

Going back to a previous column, I remember writing on a subject that I feel strongly against... weasel reporting. For those who don't understand that, go to Wikipedia and look up "Weasel words".

From that, we go to the Monday premiere of "Deal or No Deal" and "The Apprentice", the subject of this round of The Numbers Game.

If you remember, a site that I will not name outright - I will say that it is one of the four most prevalent reality TV news websites out there, but that's as far as I'll go - reported on the return of "The Apprentice" in its news section thusly...

"While Deal Or No Deal may be unlikely to deliver the 12.7 million viewers that it averaged during its December broadcasts when it begins airing weekly on Mondays, the show is still likely to provide the best lead-in that The Apprentice has had since Friends left the airwaves in May 2004."

This statement is "weaselly" in that the author isn't sure that the ratings for Monday will be as good as they were in December, but he doesn't count on it.

Like every person who dismissed the show early on... He was proven wrong by solid fact.

Fact... The return of "Deal or No Deal" posted 13.44 million viewers.

Fact... That number translates into a first-place finish at 8pm, furthering the notion that this game in this time period can, in fact, succeed.

Fact... a 4.5/12 in the adults 18-49 demographic is also a first-place finish.

Fact... The second half of Monday's opening installment, according to the more-accurate-in-reporting folks at Yahoo! and Reuters, climbed to 14.7 million viewers and 5.1/13 in the demo from 8:30-9p.

Not only did it deliver on the 12.7 million, it built on it, not just from show to show, but from half-hour to half-hour.

Of course, some hemorrhaging in the face of "American Idol" is not only expected, but confirmed, as the juggernaut spoiled a possible $1.5 million payout and the starting of a more-full-scale-than-ever-before "Amazing Race", but for the sake of argument, we're going to concentrate on the Monday airings, as these will be the standard set as time goes on because of their regular scheduling.

Now to the other half of the equation...

From "Deal" to "Apprentice".

A show is only as good as its lead-in.

This statement doesn't come from any specific source. In fact, were it not for the fact that I just typed it, it wouldn't even exist. I made it up.

But if you were to read the Yahoo! pages, or Broadcasting & Cable, or hell, even that site from which we took the fallacy of "Deal or No Deal" posted above, you would think that the success of "The Apprentice" would be judged not on the show itself, but rather on the merits of the show that preceded it.

No one once thought that the show itself just might have run its course.

Let's look at it this way. When it first premiered in 2004, "The Apprentice" had a lot of muscle going for it, and it showed in its replacement against "Scrubs" (which had since moved to Tuesdays) and "Coupling" (which was cancelled long before). It had so much muscle in fact that NBC threw extra marketing behind it, saturated their key demographic, and topped out...

In English... everyone got sick of it.

Not even a pre-premiere buildup that for all intents and purposes was about as manufactured as the drama you see on "The Apprentice" could help out the show, as it careened to fourth place with a posting of 9.7 million viewers, down from the season 4 premiere's 9.8 million.

The number one show on television, Mr. Trump? Hardly. Especially given the fact that the show at one times in its life posted 14 million viewers.

Now, this is only an entry-level assumption. The real proof of the pudding will be next week.

And the interesting thing about it. I looked at all four of those leading reality TV websites, and didn't find one mention of the show's failure against CBS's "Two and a Half Men" & "Courting Alex", Fox's "24", and hell, even ABC's "The Bachelor: Paris".

The freaking Bachelor beat out the Apprentice. Account for taste notwithstanding, such a thing is not even supposed to happen. This was supposed to be the season that ABC sent the Bachelor off into the sunset (after all, isn't Paris where all good TV concepts go to die?).

Sure, the news isn't posted on those aforementioned reality TV web sites, but it's hard to avoid the obvious... As a viable franchise, "The Apprentice" is continuing to tail off after having started last year.

And just watch. In five weeks, Donald is going to find some way to pin this all on Howie's head. That would be a true shame.

While we're on NBC...

It looks like checkmate in two moves for "Fear Factor."

According to a report by TV Week, staffers on NBC's extreme stunt game show are said to have moved on to their next jobs. An NBC spokeswoman said production for the current season has been completed and the network has not decided whether to bring the show back.

This becomes a game of "fish or cut baits." Here, NBC is presented with the option of either bringing back the show in a different time slot where it could maximize the amount of advantages going for it, or count the losses and cancel the show outright. The latter option would be quick, easy, and certain. The former, way too time- and resource-consuming for a show that pointed as low as 3.1/4 during sweeps and is returning this summer for little more than a summer burnoff period.

Two moves.

A decision has not been made yet, and anything can change as summer approaches. Stay tuned... you may not get another chance.

The weekly rant, or the banker is willing to offer you a day-old Rice Krispie square with two bite marks taken out of it.

Last Tuesday, Ryan Seacrest turned into something that you probably won't see on "American Idol" unless Chris Daughtry takes the stage again... a class act.

As you know, last Thursday was a busy night for television, with the first half of the finale of "Dancing with the Stars", Olympic figure skating, and "Survivor" all on at the same time as "Idol." In acknowledging this fact, Ryan made it crystal clear that for the first time since the franchise's 2002 premiere, a go at number one, while still a given, was not easy in the face of so many good TV options on... and we haven't even accounted for cable yet.

For the first time on "Idol", so far as I can remember, we saw genuine humility.

This is why this particular show and this particular emcee resonates in high regard with the American people. Hey, anyone who gets a mark of approval of both Merv Griffin and Dick Clark can't be all bad, and Ryan showed that this week.

Kudos, Mr. Seacrest... You just might be a hosting legend someday yet.

Chico Alexander tries to avoid the Donald as much as possible outside the scope of "The Apprentice"... It's proving a futile attempt. E-mail him at


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