NCAA tourney primetime ratings up on last year

CBS has found the ratings net with its opening nights of college basketball’s March Madness, but Fox’s “Lone Gunmen” was well off its mark with its first Friday outing and the XFL on NBC was shooting blanks on Saturday.

According to Nielsen nationals, Thursday’s action of the NCAA men’s college basketball tourney on CBS averaged a third-place 9.11 million viewers in primetime and a 3.7/11 in adults 18-49 — gains of 10% and 9%, respectively, vs. a year ago. Primetime preliminary nationals for Friday and Saturday are also up vs. last year.

It’s unclear at this point if the net is up year-to-year with all of its action (which included daytime and latenight play on Thursday and Friday and afternoon games on Saturday), but if primetime is any indication, the tourney appears to be a bigger draw this year.

Meanwhile, Fox struggled on Friday with the first episode of “X-Files” spinoff “The Lone Gunmen” in its regular time period.

‘Gunmen’ off mark

After bowing to strong numbers in a special Sunday episode (13.23 million viewers, 6.6/14 in adults 18-49), “Gunmen” was off significantly in its second Sunday try (9.00m, 4.3/10) and then down sharply again Friday when it settled into its regular timeslot, finishing fourth at 9 p.m. (prelim 5.4m, 2.7/8). It placed second in both men 18-49 and men 18-34 but lost ground vs. its lead-in and again faded in its second half-hour.

“Gunmen” and its lead-in, “Police Videos” — which fell to a season low in 18-49 (3.5/11) — appeared to be affected by the basketball action on CBS. According to prelims for Friday, the Eye’s 4.6/15 in men 18-49 would be 53% better than its season-to-date average (3.0/9) and 92% better than its average since “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” moved off the night (2.4/8).

“Gunmen” retained 69% of “Videos’ ” overall audience (5.4m vs. 7.8m), 77% in adults 18-49 (2.7/8 vs. 3.5/11) and 79% in adults 18-34 (2.3/9 vs. 2.9/12). After “Videos” finished first in 18-34, “Gunmen” fell to fourth.

Fox has been looking for something to click in the post-“Videos” hour on Friday for a while now, but at least so far, it doesn’t appear to have found it in “Gunmen.”

The XFL on NBC also struggled — well, even more than usual — opposite college basketball Saturday. Seventh Saturday of the season averaged a puny 2.0/3 homes rating in overnights — 23% below the previous low-water mark set two weeks earlier (2.6/4).

And in adults 18-49, its projected 1.1/3 rating would be 27% below the season low (1.5/5).

Ratings swish

CBS kicked off its 20th year of NCAA tourney overage Thursday by placing third in primetime behind NBC and ABC and second to NBC in most male demos. Other than last Thanksgiving and the five nights that “Survivor” has aired on Thursday this season, CBS’ 3.7/11 in adults 18-49 is its best on a Thursday since the second week of NCAA tourney action late last March.

Prelims for CBS on the weekend are a bit unreliable given the live nature of the games, but the net appears to have finished second Friday to NBC in adults 18-49 (with a projected 3.4 or 3.5 rating) and first in adults 18-34 (roughly a 2.9).

Saturday’s basketball action, which kicked off the second round of the tourney, gave CBS a victory in total viewers (projected 10 million) and a virtual tie with Fox in adults 18-49 (3.8 or 3.9). This would put the Eye up by about 15% in the demo vs. a year ago.

ABC, which did well Saturday with a repeat of “Waterworld” (prelim 9.1m, 3.5/11), and Fox, with its regular lineup (prelim 9.2m, 3.9/13), were also both up vs. the same night a year ago.

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