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The Only Thing We Have to Fear... - December 8

I believe it was President Roosevelt who said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Of course, this was way before the days of demographics and trigger-hair cancellations at a moment's notice. Now the network has so much to fear. But let's not get all doomy-gloomy just yet.

Here's the situation. "Fear Factor", one of NBC's top draws for the coveted adults 18-49 demographic, returned this week after hesitating a bit in the face of sagging ratings. The show, a game show which most game show fans will agree that they can do without, was in desperate need of an overhaul to win back any numbers lost by the natural aging process.

The good news: it helped along NBC to a night win in said demographic and took its place once again as one of NBC's top draws. The bad news: ratings for the show, now in its sixth season, are still on the downswing: the season premiere ranked third in the 8p hour with 4.8/7 in the overnights, 8.31 million viewers and a 3.1/8 among adults 18-49. Comparatively, that was a double-digit loss from its already declining performance one year earlier. To add insult to injury: NBC's "My Name is Earl" and the struggling-but-brilliant "The Office" combined out-pointed the stunt show in all key aspects. To further add insult to injury: last week's "Biggest Loser" finale pointed 9.5/14 for first place, almost double the audience of "Fear Factor". To completely saw off the legs of the horse, "Fear Factor" was beaten by a rerun of "NCIS" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas". Not a reassuring sign to a show to which the network has shown the business to.

This season was billed as one which touted more audience participation and less gross. While with the new "Home Invasion" segment delivered on that promise, it's very hard to discount the evidence that no one seems to care about that sort of thing anymore. Now it seems that the only people who will watch are the adults 18-49 that the network covets so dearly. So why is that a bad thing? Answer: there there are less of them.

There is no easy way to say it. There is just not an audience for that sort of thing anymore. The initial draw of "Fear Factor" was the shock value. After five years of doing the same thing over and over again (big movie-like stunt, grossout stunt, bigger movie-like stunt), the hardcore fans have stayed around, while the casual viewers have left en masse desensitized or just fearing what sort of sick monster the "Fear Factor" foundry has in the offing next. 

I predict a fourth-place finish when Fox's "Bones", just picked up for the rest of the season, returns next week, if not in January when "American Idol" returns.

Network television is like the stock market. The networks invest time in a franchise, and if they don't see a return in their investment, then they get rid of it and invest their time elsewhere. And while NBC is to be commended for having faith in the face of Fear on Tuesday nights, but the fact remains the same: evidently fear is no longer the factor it once was as back in the days of out-pointing "The Weakest Link".

Now we can get all doomy-gloomy.

Syndication numbers...

One week out of sweeps and literally nothing has changed. "Wheel of Fortune" is still America's game, having grown year-to-year just so (1 percent) with an 8.3, down from last week by 0.4, although it is no longer the #1 show on the daytime dial (that honor goes to Oprah). Still doing better than "Fear Factor", though. Heh. "Jeopardy!" is down 0.1 with a 6.5, still good for third, although the double-digit dropoff continues (10 percent from last year). "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" once again matched its season high with 3.1, down from last year by 16 percent.

The weekly rant...

What's the point in "Family Feud" having returning champions if they're going to keep jumping about the schedule like this? If what I hear is true, then tomorrow will be the THIRD jump this month. For a show that's supposed to showcase consistency, this is NOT acceptable.

Chico Alexander would like to thank Travis E. and Chris Tufts for that last rant. E-mail him at chico@gameshownewsnet.com.


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