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“Friday Night Lights”: Nielsen fumbles…again

One of the many great moments from this week’s second season premiere of “30 Rock” came when Kenneth the page started humming the theme to “Seinfeld”– while in an elevator with Jerry Seinfeld. Every facial muscle dripping with exasperation, Seinfeld offered a one-word response to Kenneth’s well-intentioned homage: “Really?”

That’s the same reaction I had Saturday morning when I called the ratings hotlines at a couple of the nets in order to find out how the first new episode of “Friday Night Lights” performed. It’s make-or-break time for what’s quite possibly TV’s best show, and I wanted to know if viewers found the show on its new night.

“Due to Nielsen processing issues,” the voice on Fox’s hotline began….and that’s all I had to hear. I’ve called the hotlines enough times to know that when the voice on the other end mentions “processing issues,” Nielsen’s screwed up– again. Sometimes the delays are just a few hours, but often times, it can be a full day before the ratings monopoly gets its act together and issues a report.

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I understand a delay when there’s a big snowstorm back east or a hurricane in the south. I can even forgive Nielsen for taking an extra day during the holidays.

But lately, Nielsen seems to have “processing issues” at least a couple times a month. And it always seems to occur when there’s some big series premiere or special event for which everyone’s dying to hear the ratings. There’s been at least one other delay since the season started two weeks ago.

For the networks who shell out millions to Nielsen every year in order to obtain quick, accurate results, it has to be maddening that the company seems to be finding it more and more difficult to make so-called “fast national” ratings live up to their name. And for producers like those on “Friday Night Lights,” it must be torture waiting an extra day to see just how steep their uphill battle will be this season.

Unfortunately, Nielsen seems to be getting no better at reducing its processing issues. And the extra day the biz had to wait for the Oct. 5 ratings isn’t even Nielsen’s biggest bumbling act of the season.

What really has execs pulling their hair out is the fact that it’s going to take Nielsen a full three weeks to hand out final DVR data (so-called “live plus seven” ratings). That’s right: In an era in which box office watchers can figure out how a movie will do after just a few east coast screenings, the TV biz has to wait nearly a month to find out exactly how well its shows are performing.

Really?

UPDATE: While the nets didn’t update their ratings hotlines, looks like Nielsen finally issued numbers Saturday night. The good news: “Friday Night Lights” actually won its timeslot, tying with CBS’s “Moonlight.” The bad news: Both shows posted a very modest 2.2/7 among adults 18-49, a sign broadcasters will continue to struggle to draw auds on Friday nights.

–Josef Adalian