Networks are renowned for finding ways to spin bad ratings, such as NBC (and affiliated PR people) lumping in digital and cable to downplay their linear TV Olympics ratings losses (when not blaming those losses on millennials) and somehow calling the Rio Games “the most successful media event in history,” but that’s to be expected from networks and their PR apparatuses. It’s less expected when positive spin not only comes from a media organization, but comes quickly after that organization initially criticized the ratings. That’s what appears to have happened with entertainment news website TheWrap‘s coverage of the ratings for Skip Bayless’ first Undisputed show Tuesday, though. Check out this side-by-side look at the headlines for their two separate stories:


Those headlines seem highly contradictory, even if they are relying on different metrics, and media observer (and former Fox employee) Jimmy Traina tweeted that it “looks like there was a plea to spin”:

Tony Maglio, the author of both stories, denied there was any influence on him from Fox, though:

Yes, the numerical improvement over reruns is undisputed (see what I did there?), but that hardly seems to justify a separate story with a “Soars” headline right after you wrote one with a “Drowns” headline. Also, “Original Multi-Million-Dollar Show With Prominent Sports Personality And Millions In Advertising Beats Reruns” is a headline even less newsworthy than “dog bites man.” The two really aren’t comparable; it’s as if ESPN sent out a “College Football Playoff Beats Regular Monday Programming” release, or CBS argued “Super Bowl 50 Beats Typical Sunday.”

It would be surprising if the debut of a new show of any sort didn’t beat reruns in its timeslot, much less one Fox has spent this much time and money promoting. Regardless of if there was a “plea” or not, Maglio’s later story is an incredibly favorable spin on a 0.10 overnight, and the percentages indicate that; it’s much easier to be up 400 per cent when the first number was tiny in its own right. There’s no problem with reporting how this show compares to the reruns Fox previously had in that slot, but why would you write that as a separate headline with a story that makes this seem like a success for Fox? One rating (and an overnight to boot) doesn’t necessarily doom this show, but it’s hard to see how anyone outside of Fox PR headquarters can interpret this 0.10 as a success of any kind.

To TheWrap’s credit, they’ve kept both stories online and linked both to each other. This would look much worse if they’d deleted or edited the initial critical story, and it’s still there (and linked in the prominent “Latest TV” stories sidebar on the right of the new story). The new story also mentions how First Take‘s ratings were still way better than Undisputed’s. Still, not everyone’s going to click through a link or read beyond a headline, and media headlines need to be responsible and accurate. It’s hard to justify “Skip Bayless’ ‘Undisputed’ Debut Soars With Huge Time-Slot Ratings Gain” as a headline if you don’t work for Fox.

[Jimmy Traina]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing.

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