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Inside Move: The real ratings deal?

Summer heat short-lived for nonfiction TV

Reality check time.

Networks planning to ramp up development of reality shows should check their numbers.

The glut of primetime reality shows on the Big Four broadcast networks actually contributed to a Nielsen falloff in viewers during the warm-weather months, says a report by Jack Wakshlag, the exec who oversees research for the Turner cable nets.

The Big Four were counting on more original programming — mostly reality shows — to give them a primetime lift this summer. Instead, Wakshlag says, the extra hours of firstrun summer programming caused another dropoff in viewership.

Comparing just firstrun shows, household ratings for the Big Four declined by 8% and their rating among adults 18 to 49 skidded by 10%. It didn’t help that none of this summer’s reality shows broke through the clutter like Fox’s “American Idol” did in 2002.

Tim Brooks, senior VP of research for Lifetime, says the Big Four’s numbers started off the summer with a slight uptick in June as shows like “For Love or Money” and “The Last Comic Standing” kicked off with big publicity campaigns.

But as more and more of the reality shows hit the Big Four’s schedules, viewers had trouble distinguishing one from another. The Big Four’s ratings went down by 2.5% in July and by another 4.8% in August. Most of those defectors gravitated to cable TV, whose ratings were up both months.

As Brooks puts it, “Viewers can watch only so many people taking off their clothers and jumping into hot tubs.”