CBS' 6.4 'Fast National' Rating for Tony Awards Shows Only Modest Increase

News   CBS' 6.4 'Fast National' Rating for Tony Awards Shows Only Modest Increase Though all theatre-loving eyes were fixed on the stage of Radio City Music Hall from 8-11 PM Sunday night, June 3, today all eyes turn to the overnights — that is, ratings for the Tony Awards' television broadcast. The event was televised live on PBS (8-9 PM) and CBS (9-11 PM), with the PBS telecast officially titled "The First Ten Awards: Tonys 2001."

Though all theatre-loving eyes were fixed on the stage of Radio City Music Hall from 8-11 PM Sunday night, June 3, today all eyes turn to the overnights — that is, ratings for the Tony Awards' television broadcast. The event was televised live on PBS (8-9 PM) and CBS (9-11 PM), with the PBS telecast officially titled "The First Ten Awards: Tonys 2001."

According to the zap2it.com website, which lists Nielsen ratings for the three major networks, Fox and WB; the Tony ratings, though "lackluster," helped CBS "edge NBC and the NBA Playoffs in the overnight metered market ratings." Preliminary ratings (on zap2it) for the Tonys in 44 major markets (out of more than 200) had it garnering a 7.3 rating with an 11 share. The numbers, while not as high for the 9-11 PM slot as those of ABC and NBC, were strong enough to help CBS win the night overall (though "60 Minutes'" 11.6 / 21 share was probably the biggest factor). CBS' 7-11 PM overall overnight rating was 8.7 / 14, with NBC at 8.5 / 14 and ABC at 6.6 / 11.

The zap2it.com numbers for the Tonys tell a different story from CBS' own "Fast Nationals," which are preliminary numbers for all the national markets and will likely be closer to the overall final rating numbers. According to the "Fast Nationals," the Tonys garnered only a 6.4 rating / 10 share, up 3 percent (an increase of less than a quarter-million viewers) from last year's 6.2 / 10. It's still an increase, but not nearly as significant.

Last year's 6.2 / 10 was down from 1999's 7.0 / 12 share (which, in turn, was down 17 percent from the previous year). A single rating point represents roughly one million households; a share shows the percentage of televisions being used at the time. This translates into roughly 7.2 million homes taking in the Tonys Sunday night, with 11 percent of available TV sets tuned in.

Awards for the CBS show had been sliding since the mid-1990s, causing much off-season finger-pointing between the American Theatre Wing and the League of American Theatres and Producers, which, as "Tony Award Productions," co-produce the event. Though the theatre community generally agreed that the 2000 Tony Awards ceremony was a significant improvement over the previous year, television ratings for the CBS national broadcast were the lowest in years. Reasons for this year's improvement likely include the season boasting not one but two hot musicals, The Full Monty and The Producers, the latter proving the biggest hype and excitement-generating show since The Lion King. Co-stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick co hosted the Tony Awards, which was expected to be a Awards monster and didn't disappoint, taking home a record 12 Tonys (out of 15 nominations).

In 1996 B.R. (Before Rosie), the Tony rating was 8.3 with a 13 share. In 1997, the show leapt to an 11.2 rating and a 17 share, its best showing in 10 years. The following year, the Tonys registered a 10.3 rating and a 16 share.

This year's Tony broadcast competition was similar to last year's. NBC ran the Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks deciding Playoff game from approx. 7:30-10 PM. Fox offered an "X Files" repeat (4.4 / 6) followed by NASCAR racing, (5.1 / 10). ABC again countered the Tonys with two episodes of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" (10.2 / 15) followed by a repeat of "The Practice" (7.9 / 13).

More competition came from cable, where HBO opens the fourth season of its wildly popular "Sex in the City" with two episodes (9-10 PM). A new episode of "Six Feet Under" followed at ten. A draw for women viewers was also likely to be the Food Network's "Iron Chef 21st Century Battle," running 9-11 PM. On the movie front, TBS showed "Star Wars" followed by "Edward Scissorhands." Less likely to drain viewership were Nickelodeon's evening-long "Diff'rent Strokes" marathon, and the Learning Channel's "World's Weirdest Performers," which, according to TV Guide (June 2-8), boasted "a man [who] stuffs his body through a tennis racket."

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While CBS and the Tony producers were looking for something of a resuscitation, PBS was likely hoping to build on last year's success — and it seems they've succeeded. According to a PBS spokesperson, the metered market average rating (for major markets) for the 2001 "First Ten Awards" show on PBS was 2.4, which translates into 3.4 million viewers. ("True" national ratings won't be available for a couple of weeks.) The spokesperson added that last year's "true" national rating for the Tony PBS broadcast was only 1.7 million (roughly 2.1 million viewers), so this year saw a significant increase. [Note: Preliminary ratings reported by PBOL just after the 2000 Tonys had the national rating at 2.1 (rather than 1.7), up 50 percent from the previous year's 1.4.]

Interviewed by the New York Times (May 20, 2001), Jeff Folmsbee, co executive producer of the PBS show, said of the 2000 broadcast, "We're now right up there with `Antiques Roadshow.' Look, if CBS ran a test pattern, they'd get a 3 rating. There's a built-in bigger audience for CBS... We give out ten awards live; they give out 12... People think, `Oh, it's PBS, it must be the minor awards, [but] we're not just showing you this song and-dance number. We are showing the song-and-dance number and how it was designed from the choreographer's point of view, the director's point of view, the lighting designer's point of view, the costume designer's point of view. All these people had a say."

Regarding the 2001 CBS broadcast, Tonys managing producer Elizabeth McCann told the Times, "I think our ratings will be up this year. I'll be very surprised if there aren't... There should be a television show about Broadway every season, not just once a year."

Stay tuned.

— By David Lefkowitz