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Summer Session: Critical Thinking - June 14

Last week, we began our Summer Session of the Numbers Game with promise. Does that promise continue into this week? Depends on who you ask. With thirty-some shows premiering between now and Labor Day, some will rise to the top, and some will fall through the cracks. Primetime games are no longer exempted from the rules that govern broadcast television, and this week in the Numbers Game just might prove that as we cite some critics on last week's four premieres, and then compare them to the numbers.

Keep in mind as you read this that one swallow does not a summer make, and that numbers and criticism are posted strictly for purposes of comparison.

We start with...

The Good... Critically.

The Scholar, a rarity in reality television: an active structure of competition rather than "divide into two and vote someone out." The five finalists among ten high-school seniors will be guaranteed $50,000 toward a college education, with the winner getting another $240,000. That amounts to, according to ABC, a full-ride scholarship anywhere in the country.

What the critics say: Jerry Graham of the Santa Cruz Sentinel says that this isn't typical reality. "First of all, it's no game. The future of the contestants is at stake. To the producer's credit, there is no humiliation involved. The kids are also not forced to survive physical challenges or eat gross objects." Ruben Navarrette of the San Diego Union-Tribune calls it "inspiring."  "Rather than playing to the lowest common denominator, it aims for a higher standard. It's no wonder that some of its producers reportedly fled other, tackier, reality shows to join this one in the hopes of - according to an ABC executive - sleeping better at night. The best thing about this series is the respect it pays not just to these hard-charging young people but also to the very idea of a college education. That's what the whole show is about."

What the numbers say: Unfortunately, probably speaking to a wave of American anti-intellectualism, the numbers don't reflect the critical acclaim of the series. "The Scholar" drug into a third-place finish in households (3.7/5) and viewers (4.87 million), and a fourth-place finish in the key A18-49 demo (1.7/5). Again, youth is not served its due justice, and a battle of the brains goes unnoticed. That's what happens when you put up next to "Fear Factor".

Conclusion: the unfair balance continues.

The Bad... Critically.

The Real Gilligan's Island is back for more, as 14 stranded castaways compete to be rescued from the real version of the television atoll for $250,000 and a new car. Now here, there tends to be more leniency for ratings, as cable historically doesn't measure viewers like broadcast does.

What the critics say: William Wadsack of the Beauregard Daily News didn't think this was "as interesting as the first season." Scott Fuller of the Washington Examiner called it "a shipwreck." However, they're both put to shame by this from David Bianculli of the New York Daily News: "The only way this show could justify its existence would be if the island, this time, were the Bikini Atoll, and the collected contestants were eliminated in a very real, atom-bomb sense." That, and he compares watching it to being in the seventh circle of hell.

What the numbers say: Despite a floating ad in which the ladies are involved in a pie-fight, the island made a relatively modest return for its two-hour premiere Wednesday, averaging roughly 1.9 million viewers between 9-11p. Not too terrible, but consider this: the first season drew more viewers and was cable's #1 new reality series last year, debuting to 2.1 million viewers.

Conclusion: 200,000 viewers, or roughly the population of Fayetteville, NC, give or take 50,000. One city wouldn't make a difference on broadcast, but it could mean everything in cable, especially if a downward trend continues.

A "Cut" from Something Else

We go now to the 90-minute premiere of "The Cut", in which Tommy Hilfiger looks for the next great fashion designer for his label. It plays out like "The Apprentice" in the fashion world. It REALLY plays out like "The Apprentice" in the fashion world.

What the critics say: Geoffrey Lewis of EarthTimes.org: "While the first episode was no great shakes, we'll reserve judgment until the next few ones to decide if Hilfiger has got the roguish charm of Donald Trump. Until then, fingers crossed." Over at the Reality Reel: "It took all of about two minutes of watching Tommy Hilfiger and his schtick in The Cut to consider that I was watching a bleeping clone of The Apprentice." But then, you have the other side of the coin, as delivered by the Grand Forks Herald. "Although Hilfiger's first interaction with the aspiring designers is a fussy critique of their outfits, he's more subdued than other reality TV czars. No Trumpian firings or Tyra tirades here. Hilfiger, who's daughter Ali onced starred in her own MTV reality show titled "Rich Girls," insists the contestants fashion all the drama - not him." And Scott Walton of Cox News Service: "Hilfiger wouldn't be on the series if the potential rewards didn't outweigh the risks."

What the numbers say: This is one of those times where I have to pull out one of my standard philosophies: "People are dumb, but they're not stupid." They could have seen "clone of the Apprentice", which, by the way, is losing some of its own lustre. End result, a narrow number-two placing in households (5.1/9) and viewers (6.68 million), and a number-three placing in A18-49 (2.1/7), all opposite ABC's NBA playoff matchups.

Conclusion: The NBA Finals is still going, and this week isn't looking good for Tommy's brood either in that hour, especially considering that the third half-hour of the premiere is when the show gained ground.

And the Ugly... No Matter WHAT Side You Take.

Finally, there's Fire Me... Please! Based on a British format, "The Sack Race", two players have to get fired before 3pm, with the closest getting $25,000. Yep, on this game, "You're fired" means "You win."

What the critics say: Back to Mr. Bianculli: "[The show] is built around the irritation of unsuspecting employers, and has the same irritating effect on viewers." Joanne Weintraub of OnWisconsin.com agrees: "Basically, it's an hourlong practical joke in which two individuals - each followed by hidden cameras - compete to see if they can get fired on their first day at a brand-new job. If this sounds funny, I'm telling it wrong." And then there's what Gordon said last week in his State of Play: "I only hope that the poor people that did have to deal with the manic contestants from Hell got compensated - a lot." On the bright side, Marc Berman of Mediaweek called it "riotous".

I promise never to quote the demented one again :)

What the numbers say: 5.7/9 second-place finish trailing out of NCIS (6.8/12). The top-finisher that hour: House (6.1/12).

Conclusions: Sounds like viewers are pretty much telling critics to go piss off.

Last week revisited...

Hell's Kitchen: The oven's beginning to heat up, and we're not talking about Gordon Ramsay's short fuse, either. A second-place finish in households (5.2/8, up from last week) and viewers (6.98 million), and a number one finish in A18-49 (3.5/9) builds from a strong repeat showing last Monday. A good sign all around.

Dancing with the Stars: ABC's summer darling is still the belle of the ball with another top-rated performance. 11.3/18 in the overnights, 14.86 million viewers and a 4.7/14 among adults 18-49 from 9-10p, all increases.

Beauty and the Geek: Not necessarily troubling news for the beauties and the geeks, but not a mover by any means, as levels remain consistent. This week: 3.1/ 5 in the overnights, 3.55 million viewers and a 1.7/ 6 among adults 18-49 from 8-9p. All three denote fifth-place finishes.

Hit Me Baby 1 More Time: The good news, still number one amongst the key demo (3.6/11). The better news: the household levels are creeping up (6.0/9). The bad news... that HH level was still only good for third.

And finally...

We all know by now that "Family Feud" is currently in production for a seventh season, matching lengths with the Combs version, but do we all know why? That magic word that FremantleMedia likes to hear so much: growth. The show was up 5 percent from last season in household, 17 percent in women 25-54, and 75 throughout the demographics. Fingers crossed for more of the same. Richard Karn deserves it.

Also, Jeopardy! inched up 10 percent from last year, partly in due to the champion that shall not be named right now. The Emmy-winning game also saw an increase in demos 16 percent. This is just a nice little tidbit to know, since we all know that J! isn't going anywhere any time soon.

More new next week. Until then, remember... the numbers don't lie.

Chico Alexander can't believe he threw in a Fayetteville reference either. E-mail him at chico@gameshownewsnet.com


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