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Emmy Show Posts Sagging Ratings

ABC's telecast of the awards program logs fewer viewers than any other since 1990.

September 21, 2004|Scott Collins and Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writers

Executives at long-struggling ABC hoped the 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards would put some muscle behind the network's new fall lineup. Instead, the show delivered the weakest ratings in more than a decade.

Sunday's telecast was the least-watched Emmy ceremony since 1990, with an average of 14 million total viewers, according to early figures from Nielsen Media Research. That's a 22% slide from last year's ceremony on Fox, which itself delivered lower-than-expected ratings.

The network estimated that about 30 million viewers tuned in to at least part of the three-hour ceremony, which began at 8 p.m. EDT and aired on a tape delay on KABC-TV Channel 7 in Los Angeles.

The low numbers surprised and puzzled many in the industry and represent a huge disappointment for ABC executives, who were depending on the ceremony to launch the network's new season, which officially began last night. The telecast included numerous promotional spots for ABC premieres, including the dramas "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives."

ABC's Emmy fizzle was all the more confounding given the relatively strong ratings for a pre-show special on cable network E! Entertainment. E!'s two-hour "Live From the Red Carpet" did as well as it did a year ago in major markets, even though it featured new host Star Jones of "The View," taking over from Joan and Melissa Rivers. In Los Angeles, E!'s coverage was ranked sixth in the market.

Still, the Emmys delivered far fewer average viewers than this year's Oscars on ABC (43.5 million) and NBC's Golden Globes (26.8 million), despite acting victories for movie stars Meryl Streep and Al Pacino, who both starred in HBO's "Angels in America." Comic Garry Shandling hosted the awards for the first time in four years.

ABC declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which produces the telecast, did not return a call.

The drop-off in viewership may have been due in part to ABC's low overall standing in the ratings. CBS also proved to be an unusually strong competitor, benefiting in many markets Sunday from a National Football League game that ran long, as well as from a repeat of its popular crime drama "Cold Case."

But Tim Spengler, executive vice president of New York ad firm Initiative Media, theorized that Emmy viewers may have been turned off by a hurried pace, which forced many winners to keep their speeches brief. Repeatedly, producers struck up the orchestra just as honorees got started, prompting Streep to joke that she could sing her thank-yous to the music.

"They were rushing everybody off the stage," Spengler said. "They cued the music more on Sunday night than I've ever seen."

Other observers believe that the dominance of HBO shows such as "The Sopranos" and "Angels in America" might have put off viewers who don't subscribe to the premium channel. But Spengler pointed out that HBO's Emmy ascendancy had been developing for years, without any apparent effect on the award show's ratings.

Whatever the reason, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox -- which rotate Emmy telecasts on an annual basis -- might find it difficult to get top dollar for future shows. Advertisers are said to have paid about $550,000 for each 30-second spot on this year's awards program.

"They need to find a way to become more of a destination show if the networks plan to continue to sell the show as high as they do," Spengler said.

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