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Emmy ratings flirt with all-time lows

September 22, 2008 | 12:11 pm

Maybe those ad whizzes on "Mad Men" should come up with a marketing campaign to boost the Emmys.

After handing the outstanding drama series prize to the stylish but little-watched AMC series about the ad industry in the early 1960s, Sunday's 60th Primetime Emmy Awards picked up its own ratings booby prize, delivering the ceremony's worst numbers since at least 1990.

An average of 12.2 million viewers tuned in to ABC's three-hour event, slipping 5% compared with last year's telecast on Fox, according to early data from Nielsen Media Research. This year's tally looked to be the lowest since Nielsen started using "people meters" in 1987. However, final figures to be released Tuesday will likely rise a bit after some statistical adjustments, in which case this year's outing might tie or brush past the 12.3 million Fox earned in 1990.

But the news was particularly bad among the young-adult viewers sought by advertisers, as well as by TV academy officials who are seeking to keep the ceremony relevant to today's audience. The ABC broadcast earned an all-time low rating of 3.8 among viewers ages 18 to 49, for a 12% dive compared with last year. This was the first year the Emmys have dipped below a 4.0 rating among viewers 18-49.

ABC declined to comment.

The fault may not lie simply in the low-rated shows honored by Emmy voters, including "Mad Men" and "30 Rock," which took the top comedy trophy. The Emmys faced tough competition from a Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers game on NBC (which averaged 16.6 million viewers for the night).

And then there was the Emmy show itself: Co-hosted by reality emcees Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst and Ryan Seacrest, the telecast was savaged by critics. Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara wrote, "The show never quite recovered from its unforgivably bad opener, or its less-than-useless hosts."

-- Scott Collins