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CBS' Emmy telecast reverses ratings slide

Host Neil Patrick Harris helps the award show post an estimated 8.1% gain from '08, improving in all key demographic categories. Emmy ratings had dropped three straight years before Sunday.

September 22, 2009|Joe Flint

Maybe Neil Patrick Harris should host all award shows.

Ending three years of declining ratings, CBS' telecast of the Emmy Awards on Sunday night drew 13.3 million viewers, according to preliminary numbers from Nielsen Media Research. That's an 8.1% gain over last year's telecast on ABC, which attracted a record-low 12.3 million viewers.

While the Emmy Awards still finished second for the night in total viewers and key demographics, the show registered gains in all key categories. It was an impressive performance, considering that there were few surprises during the show and it squared off against NBC's telecast of the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants football game, which attracted 22 million viewers and went down to the final play.

For Harris, this is the second time he's hosted an award show and seen the ratings grow. In June, he held court over the Tony Awards on CBS, and that audience rose almost 20% over the previous year. Of course, football also helped CBS, since it had a late-afternoon game that fed a decent audience into its prime time.

Sunday's telecast marked a brief reprieve from the ratings slide the Emmys had experienced in recent years, but there are major issues ahead. For starters, next year's show is on NBC, which has NFL football on Sunday nights, which means the Emmys could end up moving to August. When NBC did that three years ago, the audience fell by almost 2.5 million, compared with the previous year. It remains to be seen whether the network will try to move the event to a different night of the week in September rather than air it on a Sunday in August.

Currently, the Emmy Awards rotate among CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox. But that contract, in which each network pays $7 million per show, is up after next year.

There may be a push by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences or even one of the networks to give the Emmys a permanent home. That has happened in the past, but the argument against it is that rival networks would put on strong programming to compete against it.

However, in this day and age, no one really lays down against the Emmys anymore. Besides football on NBC, this year's awards competed against original programming on HBO and AMC -- networks that received multiple honors Sunday night.

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joe.flint@latimes.com

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