An Emmys night packed with unpredictable twists and turns ended with a familiar and troubling story line for the networks -- ever lower ratings for award programs.
In fact, according to preliminary figures from Nielsen Media Research, the 13.1 million viewers who tuned in to Fox's Sunday night Emmy broadcast might be the second smallest in its 59-year history. If those figures hold, the latest award show would rank just above Fox's 1990 Emmy telecast, which pulled in just 12.2 million viewers, as the least-watched.
Sunday's Emmys, hosted by Ryan Seacrest, drew about 3 million fewer -- or about 20% less -- than last year's NBC telecast hosted by Conan O'Brien. The lower marks reflect an overall pattern of consistently slumping ratings for the major award shows, such as the Oscars and Grammys, whose onetime dominance is being slowly eroded by an expanding universe of entertainment choices.
But some of 2007's Emmys ratings problems can be blamed on the hard-nosed competition -- NBC's broadcast of the NFL's San Diego Chargers-New England Patriots matchup. Fueled by weeklong news stories centered on New England coach Bill Belichick's spying scandal, the highly anticipated game won in the coveted demographic of 18- to 49-year-olds, but narrowly lost to the Emmys in total viewers.