Series draws record ratings

The Nielsen future is looking brighter at Fox thanks to “Futurama,” which launched Sunday night with unprecedented strong numbers for the net.

According to prelim national Nielsens for Sunday, “Futurama” rocketed to an 11.2 rating, 17 share in homes and a 9.6/23 in adults 18-49, which reps a 23% jump over its 18-49 lead-in from “The Simpsons” (a prelim 9.4/15 in homes, 7.8/20 in adults 18-49).

In the nine years since “The Simpsons” premiered, only “The X-Files,” the Emmys and extra “Simpsons” episodes have ever managed bigger 18-49 builds on firstrun “Simpsons” lead-ins than did Sunday’s “Futurama.”

In 35 tries following firstrun “Simpsons” segs, “King of the Hill,” the most successful regular-sked “Simpsons” lead-out to date, never managed to match “Futurama’s” 23% build.

Compared with Fox’s 18-49 season average in that slot (excluding sports), “Futurama” was up by 45% (a 9.6 rating vs. a 6.6).

As with all debuting series, the challenge for “Futurama” is to maintain its powerful premiere numbers once the hype of the show’s launch wears off. After one more Sunday airing, “Futurama” shifts to Fox’s much weaker Tuesday schedule, where the rookie series’ ratings are almost certain to fall off.

Sunday’s “Futurama” preview energized Fox’s entire lineup that night, with “Simpsons” climbing to its best regular-slot 18-49 rating since Jan. 17 and “X-Files” (a prelim 10.1/15 in homes, 9.8/23 in adults 18-49) equaling its top homes tally in seven weeks.

Fox easily led the night in the 18-49 demo, beating runner-up CBS by 5 shares (7.3/18 vs. 5.1/13) with Fox’s strongest Sunday average since Jan. 10. Fox also rose to second in homes, 7 shares behind CBS (12.6/20 vs. 8.4/13).

Fox fare won every half-hour from 8-10 p.m. in teens and adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.

Despite Fox’s hot Sunday, NBC is expected to win the March 22-28 week in adults 18-49, topping runner-up Fox by about a 0.7 ratings point margin. Fox is counting on late-season animation additions “Futurama” and “The Family Guy” to spark a rating rally if the News Corp. net is to have any shot at catching NBC for the season-long 18-49 crown.

The Peacock should also take the week in homes when Nielsen announces March 22-28 averages today. The margin between NBC and second-place CBS will depend on results for live basketball over the weekend, which are not reliably indicated by prelim Nielsens.

Basketball-boosted CBS is expected to dunk ABC into fourth place in adults 18-49 for the week, marking just the second time in 24 weeks that the Eye has beaten a rival Big Four net in that key demo.

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