Live programming pays off in this world of countless channels, DVRs and online streaming. ABC averaged a 2.1 rating with Adults 18-49 from 8-11 pm last night in the preliminary fast nationals on a night devoted to a high-wire stunt, but hit the jackpot (for a Friday night in the summer) at 10 pm with a 3+ rating for the stunt itself. The other broadcast networks, with mostly repeats, were stuck at a 1 rating or less.
ABC started the evening with Countdown to Niagara: The Greatest Megastunts of All Time from 8-9 pm, averaging an okay 1.2 rating in the 8:00 half hour and a 1.3 at 8:30. But the night started to take off at 9 pm as the live Megastunts — Highwire Over Niagara Falls began. The 9:00 half hour averaged a 1.7 rating and 9:30 hit a 1.8 rating. The audience really came for the stunt itself, however. Nik Wallenda walked across Niagara Falls on a cable (with a safety harness, but still) from approximately 10:15-10:45 pm ET, and ABC’s ratings spiked to a 3.1 in the 10:00 half hour and peaked at a 3.4 from 10:30-11:00. (The ratings should be very close to the official ratings available next week, as this special was tape-delayed in the west in the normal broadcast pattern measured by the fast national ratings.)
The visuals (especially the aerial shots and the camera attached to his waist) were actually pretty spectacular in HD. (Imagine trying to see what was going on through the mist and relatively low light with SD cameras.) Of course, the special ended on an incredibly hokey note with the Canadian Customs agents asking for his passport after he finished the stunt. Female agent: “What is the purpose of your trip, sir?” Wallenda: “To inspire people around the world.” Oy. But ABC took a shot with something new and has created (resurrected) a franchise for sleepy nights of the year like these.
NBC finished in second place with a 1.0 rating. Repeats of Whitney (0.6) and Community (0.5) didn’t do any business (the same results as their time period repeat premieres last week), but Dateline did an acceptable 1.2 rating from 9-11 pm.
CBS averaged a third-place 0.7 rating from 8-11 pm with repeats of Undercover Boss (0.9), CSI: New York (0.6) and Blue Bloods (0.6).
FOX finished fourth with a 0.6 rating from 8-10 pm with repeats of House (0.6) and Bones (0.6).
NBC and FOX will air live sports programming tonight, with NBC having the most upside. The third round of the U.S. Open golf championship airs until approximately 10 pm ET. The tournament will get a “Tiger rating bump”, as Woods is tied for first place through the first two rounds, and more viewers will be available to see the tournament as it shifts to prime time in most of the country, a huge benefit when the Open is played on the West Coast (this year at the Olympic Club in San Francisco). An original episode of The Firm is scheduled at 10 pm on NBC (will that series ever conclude?). But players might still be on the course at 7 pm PT, and there could be a reason to keep the golf coverage going until 11 pm ET/ 8 pm PT. We shall see. FOX has MLB baseball tonight from 7-10 pm ET, with a super-regionalized slate of five games. Ten of 30 MLB markets will get their team on FOX, but the rating will still probably hover around a 1 rating or less.