An abysmal night of television Friday night for the most part, with the top-rated broadcast network (ABC) averaging a 1.1 preliminary Adult 18-49 rating. NBC was a close second at a 1.0 rating from 8-11 pm, but NBC News distinguished itself in the 10 pm hour with adept coverage of the Jerry Sandusky guilty verdicts in Pennsylvania. The story broke in prime time on the East Coast, and ABC News, in contrast, really looked bad with its feeble efforts to cover the breaking news.
ABC began the evening with a repeat Shark Tank (1.1 rating), followed by a two-hour 20/20. The first hour was about people “losing it” on camera, mostly recycled YouTube footage of celebrities like Alec Baldwin melting down with photographers or teachers, policemen or parents losing their temper. As insipid a story as you’ll ever find from a broadcast news division, the topic in the 9 pm hour scored a 1.2 rating. Actually not a horrible rating for a summer Friday, it seemed to be a decent enough lead-in to the heavily promoted 10 pm interview with Rielle Hunter about her new book and her affair with John Edwards. The only problem was no one wanted to hear from Ms Hunter. The 10 pm hour declined slightly to a 1.1 rating.
Meanwhile, over at NBC, they also had repeats at 8 pm and two hours provided by News. The big difference was that NBC News actually seemed to be fully prepared for the real possibility of a verdict in the Sandusky case. The evening started as a Friday normally does with two repeats from the Entertainment division delivering terrible ratings: Whitney (0.5) and Community (0.4). Dateline began airing its two-hour crime/ mystery story about a murdered school teacher at 9 pm, struggling at first with a 0.9 rating in the 9:00 half hour, then building to a 1.2 at 9:30, a 1.5 at 10:00, and then leveling off at a 1.4 at 10:30. When news of 45 guilty verdicts broke shortly after 10:00 ET, NBC News was ready with anchor Lester Holt live in studio to announce the headlines briefly and seamlessly after one of the segments of the murder mystery story ended. Holt then teased that interviews and analysis of the guilty verdicts would air after the murder mystery story concluded. At about 10:45 pm, Holt presented a recap of the Sandusky story and interviewed NBC investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, who has done extraordinary reporting on the culpability of Penn State itself in the tragedy (perhaps in a one-man crusade to save the News division’s reputation after the unfathomable decision to not air the most relevant part of Bob Costas’ November interview with Sandusky).
How did ABC News handle the breaking story? A 20-second on-screen “special report” graphic about the verdicts at 10:12 pm as Rielle Hunter babbled on, with no other mention in the show. Clearly, ABC did not have anchors in position, a live studio ready, or an alternate (shorter) version of the Hunter exclusive standing by. No other mention of the Sandusky verdicts in the 20/20 broadcast — leave it to the late local news and Nightline to handle was the obvious thinking. While NBC did not win the night, they handily won the 10 pm hour leading into the late local news. Credit solid planning at NBC News and brilliant execution by Network Operations, again showing they are they best in the business.
CBS and FOX were in repeats and did not have any news presence on the night. Each network averaged a 0.7 in prime time with mostly repeats of scripted dramas.