Anatomy of a gender confrontation

Important Ravens game pre-empts `Grey's Anatomy,' a women's favorite

November 30, 2006|By Sarah Kickler Kelber and David Zurawik | Sarah Kickler Kelber and David Zurawik,sun reporters

`Anatomy' lesson: The Ravens rule The Pittsburgh Steelers weren't the only ones shut out by the Ravens this week: McDreamy, McSteamy and the rest of the Grey's Anatomy gang won't be shown on WMAR-TV in the Baltimore area tonight.

Fresh off a cliffhanger episode, the popular ABC medical drama is getting knocked back to 1:05 a.m. tomorrow so WMAR can air the Ravens' potentially division-clinching game against the Cincinnati Bengals starting at 8 p.m.

Since about twice as many women as men watch Grey's Anatomy - the exact opposite of the typical female-to-male ratio for Ravens football - tonight's TV conflict seems a classic case of the gender gap playing out in prime time.

The TV schism results from the new NFL Network that the National Football League is seeking to establish on premium cable. Because the new channel, which features Thursday and Saturday night games, isn't available to all cable subscribers, the league allows broadcast networks to bid for the games in the competing teams' markets.

In Cincinnati tonight, the NBC affiliate won the rights. In Baltimore, however, WMAR-TV (Channel 2), the ABC affiliate, won, placing the game above Grey's Anatomy, a show in its third season with a very strong fan base and especially popular with female viewers.

"I was very upset, and I'm still trying to figure out why it's going to be on at 1 in the morning," said Nicole Scheff of Baltimore, who regularly communicates on Web message boards about the show. Scheff typically keeps ahead of the latest plot turns by reading postings from fans in eastern Canada. They get the show an hour ahead of East Coast viewers in the United States and summarize it during commercials. Scheff said she learned about the pre-emption from an announcement at the end of last week's episode.

Clashes between games and other programming are nearly as old as televised sport itself, although they usually involve sporting events going into extra innings or overtime and, thus, running into regularly scheduled prime-time shows.

One of the most storied incidents involved a 1968 game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders in the old American Football League. The Raiders mounted a remarkable comeback in the last 65 seconds, scoring 14 points to win the game, but viewers saw none of it: NBC had cut away to air the start of a made-for-TV version of the children's book Heidi after fielding complaints from parents whose children were awaiting the special.

Another controversial pre-emption for sports came in 1987 when CBS executives decided to continue coverage of a U.S. Open tennis match rather than cut away for the CBS Evening News With Dan Rather. The anchorman stormed off the set when informed of the pre-emption. When the network cut to the newscast, cameras found only an empty set. In the confusion, CBS was left with six minutes of an empty screen.

Drew Berry, vice president and general manager of WMAR, yesterday said that his station sought permission from the network to air Grey's Anatomy before tonight's football game but was denied.

"Even my wife's angry," he acknowledged.

In October, the most recent figures available, Grey's Anatomy was watched in about 167,000 households a week on Channel 2 - a 13.2 local rating. Tonight's Ravens game will likely be seen in 211,000 homes on Channel 2, a 19.0 rating, estimated Christina Clemson, WMAR research and marketing director.

The station will undoubtedly make more money with the game than it would have with Grey's Anatomy. Beyond attracting higher advertising rates for what is expected to be a larger audience, WMAR will not have to split revenue with the network in the way it would for an ABC series.

Grey's Anatomy fans can watch or record the show on WMAR at 1:05 a.m. (if the game doesn't go long). In a world of new media, they also have other options, including watching the show on the Internet after 5 a.m. tomorrow (abc2news.com or abc.go. com). Two other ABC shows are also being pre-empted tonight: Ugly Betty will air on WMAR at 1:05 a.m. Saturday and Men in Trees at 1:05 a.m. Sunday.

In Ocean City and other places in the state beyond WMAR's range, football fans might be the disappointed lot. WMAR is the only over-the-air broadcast station in Maryland allowed to carry the game, which means that unless viewers have the NFL Network, available through Comcast digital cable and satellite dish companies, they can't watch the Ravens-Bengals game tonight.

Viewers in Cincinnati have a different conflict. The NBC affiliate WLWT won the bid to air the game there, which means shifting hit shows such as My Name Is Earl, The Office, Scrubs, 30 Rock and ER to this weekend. But those shows, while extremely popular, don't present the gender clash posed by pitting football vs. Grey's Anatomy. Clemson said she believes more women will watch tonight's game than normal as a result of the Ravens' winning season.

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