A ratings tale: Ask not to whom the shares goTelevision...

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December 04, 1992|By RAY FRAGER

A ratings tale: Ask not to whom the shares go

Television ratings are a recurring theme in American literature.

There was Herman Melville ("Call me Nielsen."), Edgar Allan Poe ("Take Mister Spock from out my set, and Captain Kirk from off my floor. Quoth the ratings 'Nevermore.' "), Joyce Kilmer ("I think that I shall never see a share much larger than 73.") and even Allen Ginsberg ("I have seen the best shows of my generation destroyed by poor time slots, starving for an audience, dragging themselves through pre-emption after pre-emption.').

So it's important to keep writing about ratings. If Ernest Hemingway were alive and writing this TV sports column, not only would it mean that his books weren't selling, but you also can bet he'd be talking ratings.

The ratings for the NFL were high and good. So we all drank to the ratings. And we decided that it was better for the ratings to be high and good. Sometimes, the ratings were low and bad, and we didn't drink to the ratings. We had to think of something else.

There are several ways to the look at the ratings. I prefer to do it while reclining on pillows and having Kim Basinger and Michelle Pfeiffer pop grapes into my mouth as they fan me with palm fronds. But programmers spend hours poring over the ratings, each point signifying a trend. And then guys such as me spend five minutes looking at the numbers and compiling lists such as this (all numbers are taken from Baltimore's Nielsen ratings for November):

* The Subway Alumni in our area must spend Saturdays riding light rail. Notre Dame football drew a 3.8 rating and a 9 share in two airings that began at 1:30 p.m. ABC's two early college football games, which began at noon, drew a 3.9/11. You could consider that a win for Michigan; the Wolverines played in both of those early games.

ABC's four late games, starting at 3:30, drew 5.5/12. In fact, "NBA Inside Stuff," seen earlier on Saturdays on Channel 2, beat Notre Dame with a 4.0/11. We play for sport's sake, not for fame, indeed.

* "Bullets Jam," a new program this season on Channel 2, hasn't quite caught on yet. Its 2.9/8 is lower than the numbers for most of Channel 13's cartoons on Saturday morning. However, the show did beat "Hooked on Phonics" on Channel 11, apparently indicating that the surgeon general was wrong about the addictive nature of phonics.

* Baltimore viewers favor CBS' "NFL Today" over NBC's "NFL Live," 5.5-4.9. But, later on Sundays, they liked "American Gladiators" even better -- 6.0. The message? Maybe Bob Costas should shoot tennis balls at O. J. Simpson.

* The local audience exhibits little preference for either CBS or NBC 1 p.m. NFL games (CBS' drew a 10.5, NBC's a 10.2). For 4 p.m. games, though, the CBS games on Channel 11 outdraw NBC's on Channel 2, 14.7-12.0. But Redskins haters can't draw any conclusions; the team played in a 4 p.m. game just once.

* Tom Davis' "Braase, Donovan and Fans" (3.1) on Channel 13 at noon Sundays comes close to NFL Films' "This Is the NFL" (3.6) on Channel 2 at the same time. Still, though, Braase and Donovan can't top "Great Looking Hair" (3.4), which aired at 1:30 a.m. Monday.

To summarize, then: Ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program. Shares measure the percentage among homes where television is in use. And, remember, this is for information only; no wagering.

Sing along with Ray

Every year about this time, newspapers start running those cheery, little stories to brighten the season. Did you catch the one in this paper the other day? The headline read, "Armed with new state law, Comcast targets cable theft."

If you're stealing cable -- though, of course, no one who reads this column would steal anything other than a kiss -- watch out: The Cable Police will nail you. They'll haul your Showtime-snatchin' butt right into court, where a judge just might sentence you to 60 hours of watching Jayne Kennedy explode in a leotard and sob her way through a California Diet pitch.

Doesn't this kind of story put you right into the holiday spirit?

Here come Cable Cops, here come Cable Cops,

Right down Cable Cops Way.

Here come Cable Cops, here come Cable Cops,

They'll make sure you pay . . .

*

. . . The subscriber list, he's checkin' it twice,

He's gonna find out which one of you splice.

Cable laws are gonna clamp down. . .

*

. . . Clog the courts with cable stealers,

Fa la la la la la la la la.

No more are they wheeler-dealers,

Fa la la la la la la la la.

Find the wires in the attic,

Fa la la la la la la la.

Then all they get to watch is static,

Fa la la la la la la la la.

A Comcast spokesman said his company loses $7 million to $10 million a year because of cable theft in Maryland. Let's hope this roundup works, and Comcast starts to recoup that money. Maybe then subscribers won't have to keep paying $15.99 a month to watch Home Team Sports.

Coming in on short-wave

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