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The Decision Is Not Unan1mous - May 4

Turn on the television, and you'll more than likely hear Fox toot its own horn, repeatedly and at great volume, about how big of a hit "Unan1mous" is. And they are perfectly within their scope to do so, with phrases like "the best new reality series of the season" and "over 16 million viewers" being tossed about like no one's business. In fact, to say that Fox found another hit in "Unan1mous" at 9:30p on Wednesdays would be nothing short of outstanding.

That is, of course, if it were absolutely and positively 100 percent true. But it's not.

It turns out that Fox was posing creative license in its claims long before the Donald tried to copyright the concept for his own show, but that's another rant for another day. In true Fox attitude, they're not going to let a little think like a technicality get in the way of good publicity. After all, a man much wiser than I once said that people are not smart, that a person is smart; people are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.

Here's the tricky thing to remember about Nielsen ratings. They do not rate a particular show from start to finish. They only rate a particular time frame, usually the half hour. That basically means that instead of rating whatever program is on from the moment it starts, ratings will measure an audience to whatever is broadcast over the network's airwaves from 9:30p to 10p. Becaue the powers that be believe that this sort of thing is sloppy enough without going to make it even sloppier.

So when Fox wants you to think that everyone is watching a show, they'll kindly overlook (even in the advertising department, as commercials still bill "Unan1mous" as starting at 9:30p) that that the show actually begins two minutes to the second after Ryan gives some poor defenseless performer their walking papers. Last night alone, Elliott was told to park his butt back on the safety couch at 9:30 exactly.

Sneaky, those programmers at Fox are.

But has it worked? Let's go to Mediaweek's listings here.

Week 1: The show kicked off with a 9.8/14 in the overnights, 15.84 million viewers. Retention out of American Idol was nothing unusual at an expected 57 percent in the overnights, and 58 percent in total viewers.

Week 2: The show was close to opening levels with a 9.0/13 in the overnights, 14.43 million viewers. As a reminder, this is the week when JD started the clock for the first time. Retention remained the same.

Week 3: A level off, with a second-place 8.9/13 in the overnights. Retention out of Idol was at 51 percent... and dropping.

Week 4: The dependence begins to show. A series-low third-place 7.4/11 in the overnights, 12.19 million viewers. Retention was just 44 percent in the overnights, 46 percent in total viewers.

Week 5: 8.1/13. Third place. Retention out of Idol is 50 percent.

Week 6: 7.4/11 in the overnights, 12.06 million viewers. Retention is only 43 percent.

Sure it's within Fox's scope to call this a big hit. Sure the numbers match those of time-occupant leading Deal or No Deal. Sure "Stacked" posted similar numbers. But remember three things...

1) Fox has NEVER been wholly honest with this sort of thing to begin with.
2) Deal or No Deal never had a monster lead-in. It was a hit on its own.
3) And where exactly is "Stacked" nowadays?

The question remains as to how many people are watching "Unan1mous" each week as opposed to "Unan1mous"... AND the last couple of minutes of Idol. Only the bean counters at Fox know for sure.

And they think it's all over...

Let's go back to the original pitch. The way I see it, there was a three-pronged attack in place put by Fox reality tsar Mike Darnell, known more for ripping off "Dancing with the Stars" and "Wife Swap" and less for ripping off Sideshow Bob's haircut,  to make "Unan1mous" into the hit it really isn't...

1) Put it on the schedule after a like-genre megahit. Fox has one of those, I think. Further...
1a) In order to guarantee a success in the ratings department, tack a couple of minutes of said like-genre megahit onto "Unan1mous".
2) Sell the show like a cheap whore.
3) When in doubt, take an already successful franchise and tweak it a bit.

Almost reeks of cowardice and uncertainty, especially that last one... After all, you take away the megahit, and the creative scheduling  and extra two minutes become moot points.

Take away the concept of the game, and all you have are ten people locked in a bunker yelling at each other. Talk about a hard sell.

And take away the amazing way the show mimics Big Brother and... wait, we covered the yelling housemates already, didn't we?

So a show makes absolutely no use of a proper lead-in even when it has every opportunity in the world to do so, and it can't entertain the fleas off of a mange. And what does Mike Darnell have to say about it? "While everyone appreciates the aspiration-type shows, they’re getting old. I think people are ready to see more aggressive programs on the air, and Unan1mous lives and breathes in the world of backstabbing."

One of the rules in our Numbers Game here: "You can't change what you don't acknowledge." To his credit, Darnell does give credit where credit is due. "Of course, Idol’s a great lead-in," he said. "But after a couple of weeks, any show lives or dies on its own." To this end, Darnell all but promised that he can have a second season of "Unan1mous" ready to go as a stand-alone, as opposed to being carried by Bigger Brother.

You can start by kindly asking Idol for its two minutes back. Or you can use the show to act as a summer or fall plughole in an already murky-looking Thursday night against a weakening Survivor.

Either way, it's put-up-or-shut-up time, Mike.

The Weekly Rant, or "You're beautiful... you're beautiful.... (repeat 25 more times)... You're beautiful, it's true."

What hath Deal or No Deal wrought?

Last summer, I posed the question to Steve Beverly during his State of Games speech at GSC4 about whether or not Deal or No Deal would be a harbinger of things to come as far as primetime game shows are concerned. He thought that it wouldn't happen.

Far be it for me to say "I told you so", Mr. Beverly, but with all due respect... Boo-yah.

It's one of the unwritten rules of television: success breeds copycats. Rock and the world rocks with you. Suck and you suck alone. It's why we saw every network try out its own big money quizzer in 2000. It's why we DIDN'T see people go after their own "Monopoly" in 1991. Not for lack of trying on "Monopoly's" part, but the viewers just weren't there. It's why we saw networks trying out their own intricate mysteries a la "Lost" this year.

It's safe to say that everyone outside of the fandom and NBC pretty much wrote off "Deal or No Deal" as a one-shot at best. After all, where's the challenge in it? Picka  case and hope for the best, ride the wave for all you can. Simple.

But something happened... It caught on in a big way during the quiet December holiday season. Then when it returned in February, it didn't let up for a second. The combination of big money, players you want to root for, an addictive game (Sorry, Jessica, but it IS addictive), and you can't forget about the hoots and hollers from the gallery resonated with the viewers, and as a result, networks are either looking for their own "Deals" or their own "Deal breakers". Fox is the closest to having one, after slotting Part 2 of what has to be one of the better "House" episodes this season (give Omar Epps the Emmy already), but in order for something to happen in the genre, we're going to need something a little more lasting.

We already have a good head start in NBC's "1 vs. 100" and CBS's upcoming "Game Show Marathon" (as an aside, we've seen the pictures, expect good things). That will be followed by two more Endemol properties, "Show Me the Money" for Fox and "For the Rest of Your Life" for ABC. And if they do well, perhaps more will be in the offing.

Cable, on the other hand, is way ahead of the charge with new series of "Lingo" and "I've Got a Secret" up and running, and new series of "The World Series of Pop Culture" as well as sleeper favorite "Cash Cab" forthcoming.

I'm sure there are more games being looked at as the summer doldrums approach, and while the plate isn't teeming with solid game product as of yet, it's a good start.

We can proudly look at the calendar of game shows and say with all conviction... "The game is on."

Chico Alexander takes issue at shows being spelled in 1337. 3-m41l him at chico@gameshownewsnet.com

 

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