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March 01, 2010

'Marriage Ref' opens strong, but can't topple 'Boss'

MarriageRef01 A post-Olympics preview of NBC's "The Marriage Ref" delivered strong ratings, but CBS was still the boss of Sunday night reality. 

The half-hour "Ref" was seen by 14.5 million viewers and earned a 4.8 preliminary rating among adults 18-49, holding a fairly significant chunk of Closing Ceremony's adult demo rating (the complete numbers for the final night of NBC's Winter Games coverage will be available later).

Critical reaction to "Marriage Ref," however, was another story. Alan Sepinwall described it as "celebrities being smug, mocking ordinary couples with arguments so obviously ridiculous and one-sided that they would seem justified picking on the wrong side, and cackling at each others' lame punch lines." Time called it "the most God-awful mishmash of a comedy-variety show." Though EW defended the show, calling it "silly fun."

Though "Ref" was announced last May and booked to appear at the end of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony last month, NBC only taped its first complete episode after the Olympics started -- a pretty high-wire maneuver for a reality show that could have been indefinitely taped (and potentially polished) in advance. 

Meanwhile, CBS' "Undercover Boss" (15.1 million, 5.0) grew in the ratings for the first time and pulled a higher number than "Ref" even without an Olympic-sized lead-in.

That the CBS reality show is seeming to stabilize at such a high number is very impressive. "Boss" grew sharply from its "Race" (10.2 million, 3.2) lead-in, which also climbed this week, and had "Cold Case" (9.8 million, 2.4) as a lead-out. 

ABC continued to take hard hits, with "Desperate Housewives" (10.8 million, 3.6) falling to yet another series low, followed by "Brothers & Sisters" (8.0 million, 2.6). Fox aired repeats.

NBC's Closing Ceremony ratings will be in shortly; early estimates show the ceremony winning the night.


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