Nik Wallenda draws a crowd – inside and outside

Nik Wallenda waves to crowd in Marina City West stunt (Discovery Channel)
Nik Wallenda waves to crowd in Marina City West stunt (Discovery Channel)

Wallenda’s stunt over Chicago skyline draws viewers

Biggest draw for Discovery since 2010 – or is it?

As far as we know, there was no trickery involved in Nik Wallenda’s wire-walking stunt, which he successfully walked from Marina City to the Leo Burnett Building and between the Marina City towers themselves, high above the air with no net or no safety harness.

But if you believe the Discovery Channel, the special drew the biggest rating for the network since 2010.

Or did it?

In a press release Monday, Discovery Communications, whose Discovery Channel aired the special live from Chicago Sunday from 6 p.m. to approximately 8:22 p.m. Central Time, noted Skyscraper Live! drew 5.82 million viewers for the entire telecast. Breaking it down, the first walk (from Marina to Leo Burnett) drew 5.84 million viewers and the second walk between the towers grew to 6.72 million, with both walks averaging 6.03 million viewers between 7:35 p.m. to 8:03 p.m.

In the third paragraph of the PR, Discovery noted: “SKYSCRAPER LIVE WITH NIK WALLENDA was Discovery Channel’s most watched telecast of 2014.  Excluding last year’s Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda, SKYSCRAPER LIVE WITH NIK WALLENDA was the network’s most watched telecast since 2010.”

Want to know why Discovery excluded the ratings for last year’s skywire event? Because last year’s stunt, which saw Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon, drew 13 million viewers…

“Zombies” of course, referred to The Walking Dead, with drew 17 million viewers last night, and was easily the most watched show of the evening, broadcast or cable.

Granted, Discovery noted there was tougher competition Sunday night (from the NFL, 60 Minutes, Once Upon A Time, and even Madam Secretary), and the Skywire walk aired during the summer, but Discovery shouldn’t have “excluded” its ratings just so they could say it had the network’s “most watched telecast since 2010”. It’s the worst PR trickery in the book and its completely shameful.

Nik Wallenda with Marina City in the background. (Discovery)
Nik Wallenda with Marina City in the background. (Discovery)

Despite some grumblings from local critics on Twitter about the stunt in general, the production of the special was absolutely fantastic. Discovery showed Chicago at its best – not to mention the city’s beautiful skyline. Wallenda was flawless as thousands of fans cheered below. Even people who live in Marina City were holding parties.

This is the kind of positive publicity Chicago could use more of. Despite the ratings shortcomings, Skyscraper Live! was a success.

Locally, Wallenda’s walk – which drew a lot of media attention – did draw a lot of viewers on a weekend the Bears (thankfully) weren’t playing. Skyscraper Live! drew a 12.7 Nielsen householding rating according to Lewis Lazare at Chicago Business Journal, peaking at a 16.2 when Wallenda did his walks – quite impressive for cable program in Chicago. However, the Wallenda had tough competition from CBS’ primetime lineup and drew lower than the Bears’ average rating so far this year.

I guess to some people, watching Bears QB Jay Cutler just throw a football without getting intercepted is more death defying.

Marinacity466Did You know? Before the Sears/Willis tower opened in 1973, the two Marina City towers (left) were perhaps the most recognizable landmark in Chicago. The building formerly housed WFLD-TV and was used in a lot of advertisements for WBKB/WLS-TV from the mid-1960’s to the early 1970’s to promote the station’s movies. Both WFLD and WLS also had their transmitters on top of one of the buildings. WBKB/WLS also had a “Circle 7” logo on the transmitter and was lit up at night.

The former WCFL-AM had studios and offices next door in an office building in the Marina City complex. The office building is now a hotel.

The towers were also used in the opening of The Bob Newhart Show and featured in the films Three The Hard Way (1974) and The Hunter (1980, below).

Car falling from the towers in "The Hunter".
Car falling from the towers in “The Hunter”.