Media Notepad: “Red Line” derails in the ratings against “Game of Thrones”

“Game of Thrones” derailed “The Red Line” Sunday. (Credit: BBC. No passengers were on this train during this derailment.)

Plus…. Ratings for Bulls and Blackhawks continue to fall; Jeopardy continues to roll thanks to a winning contestant; Crain’s partners with WGN Radio

As one might have predicted, CBS’ new limited-series drama The Red Line got off to a rough start Sunday night, and it was indeed “A Long Night”.

The two-hour premiere of the shot-in-Chicago series drew next-to-nothing in the adults 18-49 demo with a 0.4 rating, down 39 percent from what previous CBS programming did in the time slot.

For comparison’s sake, the premieres of two other short-lived shot-in-Chicago shows in recent years did better: Fox’s Chicago Code debuted with a 2.4 in 2011, and APB debuted with a 1.5 in 2017.

Excluding reruns, Red Line finished as the third lowest-rated series on Sunday in the key demo. ABC’s American Idol was the top-rated show of the night by far with a season-high 1.6 demo rating. Of note, Idol aired live in all time zones (including Alaska and Hawaii, where Idol aired at 3 pm.) Locally, Red Line also had to contend with an extra-innings Diamondbacks-Cubs game on WGN-TV, which went fifteen innings deep into prime-time.

The results come as HBO’s Game Of Thrones put on a complete ratings clinic Sunday with the extended episode A Long Night. Thrones was the top-rated program of the night among all networks in viewers (17.8 million, a series high) and adults 18-49 (5.2), including two linear airings and streaming platforms HBO Now and HBO Go. The episode featured a battle between The Army Of The Dead and Winterfell, and the series dominated social media (namely Twitter) all night long. The T Dog Media Twitter feed I monitor saw more than 200 tweets related to Game of Thrones alone!

As for Red Line, despite positive reviews (through both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes’ scores have dropped since Sunday), the premiere was quite underwhelming. While the series did spotlight the city well, the plot was wobbly and the suffered from weak dialogue. On the flipside, African-American characters on the show weren’t reduced to stereotypes, so there’s that.

Given the competition, Red Line hopes it can score increased numbers from delayed viewing, via live-plus-three and plus-seven numbers. But it may not be enough as when it comes to programs dealing with social and injustice issues, the major broadcast networks may not be the best place to showcase them. And as I said before, we Chicagoans may not be in the mood to watch such fare given the hoopla surrounding real-life events (Jussie Smollett, LaQuan McDonald) have practically exhausted us.

Time of pull the red knob on The Red Line train and exit.

With Red Line struggling to get on the track, it’s all aboard for season three of The Chi as the Showtime drama set on Chicago’s South Side was renewed Tuesday.

The Chi revels in revealing the beating heart of the South Side of Chicago,” said Showtime President of Entertainment Gary Levine in a press release. “We, like our viewers, have fallen in love with these characters and we remain eager to see where Lena and her fellow artists will take them in season three.”

The series is executive produced by Lena Waithe and Common and is shot on location in Chicago, joining Shameless as the other Showtime series filmed here.

The second season debuted April 7 and airs on Sunday night after another critically-acclaimed Showtime series, Billions.

With yet another dismal season in the books, Chicago’s United Center tenants continue to lose viewers.

Ratings for the Bulls were down for the second straight season, sliding 26 percent to a 1.3 household rating – their lowest number since the 2005-06 season. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks were down 12 percent from last season, dropping to a 2.0 household rating and down tremendously from a 4.3 during the 2014-15 season, when they last won the Stanley Cup.

Granted, both teams are still a huge draw at the UC- both are among the top three in attendance in their respective leagues. But that’s little consolation for NBC Sports Chicago, who’ll have exclusive local broadcast rights to both teams starting next season, pushing WGN out of the picture (their numbers were not available.)

To be fair, ratings for all programming – with few exceptions (Bears games) are down in this increasingly fragmented TV universe. But with casual fans bailing for alternative options, it’s not good news. And when a team is losing, it is harder to attract viewers.

Among other teams, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors topped the local ratings, but were down 11 percent in what is considered “championship fatigue”, while the Buffalo Sabres topped the NHL’s local ratings despite failing to make the playoffs for another season. But their record has improved from 2017-18, resulting in a 75 percent ratings increase.

Something the Bulls and Blackhawks should at least strive for next season.

It’s rare T Dog Media reports on syndication ratings given the scammish nature of how they are tabulated…but there is something worth noting this week regarding a long-running game show and a winning contestant: CBS Television Distribution’s and Sony’s Jeopardy! topped the ratings chart for the first time in years, thanks in part to the winning streak of Las Vegas professional sports gambler James Holzhauer, who so far has raked in more than $1 million in winnings. As of this writing, Holzhauer has won nineteen games in a row – but still has a ways to go to match Ken Jennings’ 74-game winning streak from 2005.

But Holzhauer has already won more per-episode per average than Jennings did. For example, Holzhauer won $131,137 on April 17, shattering a record he set only days before.

For the week ending April 21, Jeopardy finished a 6.7 household rating, passing usual winner Judge Judy‘s 6.5 as the series was in repeats for the week. Jeopardy also beat Family Feud’s 6.1 and 1980s and 1990s syndication champ Wheel of Fortune, who earned a 5.9. with Millionaire (1.5) and Funny You Should Ask (0.5) rounding out the genre.

Holzhauer does has ties to the Chicago area – he lived and went to school in west suburban Naperville for several years, and no doubt local Jeopardy outlet WLS-TV has capitalized on his success, generally airing stories about him during the station’s 4 p.m. newscast.

With the exception of two years where the slot was occupied by a failed talk show, Jeopardy has aired on WLS at 3:30 p.m. since its 1984 premiere where it has generally dominated the ratings – even more so now since Holzhauer has been on.

What makes Jeopardy’s ratings victory even more amazing is the game show airs mostly in early fringe in the Central Time Zone where Chicago is located, generally as a local news lead-in; it airs in prime access (7 or 7:30 p.m.) in most Eastern and Pacific markets. In Milwaukee, it airs at 6 p.m. on CBS affiliate WDJT.

How long Holzhauer can continue? If he continues his streak through Friday, it’ll be stopped – albeit temporarily, because Jeopardy! is airing two weeks worth of programs dedicated to teachers, but would resume May 20. Any way Holzhauer can change professions by Friday?

Tribune’s WGN Radio and Crain’s Chicago Business are expanding their partnership into several new ventures: starting May 6, the news/talk station plan to have Crain’s reporters on the air twice every weekday during newscasts at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. and also have a new daily business report at 12:50 p.m., during WGN’s noontime business show sponsored by a local bank.

In addition, a WGN Radio microphone is being inserted into Crain’s newsroom for live breaking news reports.

In a statement, publisher and executive editor Jim Kirk said: “We’re very happy to expand our relationship with WGN [AM]. The station’s unique relationship with its listeners is a natural for Crain’s as we continue to look for ways to grow our journalism beyond our traditional platforms.”

WGN Radio already partners with Crain’s on The Daily Gist podcast, hosted by the station’s Amy Guth, featuring interviews with Chicago’s business and financial leaders available Monday through Thursday. Wednesday’s show plans to feature an interview with outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

(Editor’s Note: An earlier draft of this post misidentified Jeopardy’s syndicator.)


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