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 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
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
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
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
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
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, theyre 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, Idols 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
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
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
Far be it for me to say
"I told you so", Mr. Beverly, but with all due
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
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