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‘Bro’ joins summer’s ratings hit parade

Skein nabs adult, total viewers, and tops 'Idol'

CBS reality series “Big Brother 3” got off to a strong start Wednesday, giving it a solid shot at joining Fox’s “American Idol” and NBC’s “Dog Eat Dog” as one of the summer’s big success stories.

While the warm weather months have yet to produce a smash the size of “Survivor” or “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the networks are having more luck than usual this summer in turning out modest-sized hits in the unscripted entertainment genre. What’s more, Fox and NBC still have a few more weapons in their arsenals, leaving open the possibility of even more positive buzz — and Nielsen gains.

The latest summer sizzler: “Big Brother 3,” whose premiere hour topped its tough competish in several key ratings categories and fared better than the bow of last summer’s edition.

Tops ‘Idol’ in 2 categories

According to Nielsen, “Brother” won the 9 o’clock hour in adults 25-54 (4.5/12) and total viewers (9.19 million), becoming the first series to top Fox’s “American Idol” in these categories this summer. The two shows tied in adults 18-49 (4.1/12).

“Obviously we’re gratified with the performance, especially against the strong competition from ‘American Idol,’ ” said Kelly Kahl, CBS’ exec VP of scheduling and program planning. “To be up from last year’s premiere is certainly a testament to strong viewer interest in the ‘Big Brother’ franchise.”

Still, “American,” arguably the hottest of this summer’s unscripted programs, topped its reality counterpart in the younger 18-34 demo (4.3/14 vs. 3.5/11). Fox also has to be pleased that in the 9:30 half-hour where “American” will face “Brother” every week, it won in 18-49 and total viewers.

“Last night is a good example of the ability of (reality) shows to co-exist,” said Fox nonfiction guru Mike Darnell, adding that “American” should continue do well in the coming weeks.

“It’s performed beyond our expectations at this point,” he said. “And we’ve been in the preliminary rounds. In other countries, the show has really taken off when you get down to the final 10 (contestants.)”

Tied in key demo

In the key demo of adults 18-49, “American” and “Dog” are basically tied with a 4.7 rating — though “Idol” airs twice a week, which brings down its average a bit.

“American,” however, is clearly winning the buzz battle, generating a TV Guide cover and major ink in mags such as Entertainment Weekly.

Still, NBC can point to more individual examples of successful original summer programming this summer than any other net.

In addition to “Dog,” net has drawn solid numbers for “Spy TV” and “Crime & Punishment.”

“We started earlier than anyone,” said NBC reality czar Jeff Gaspin. “Except for ‘Fear Factor,’ we didn’t have to use any of our reality shows for the regular season, so we could save them for summer.”

Gaspin predicts networks will continue to beef up summer programming, rolling out a slew of different concepts — many of which will burn brightly for a moment and then quickly fade, like a summer romance.

“It’s like the movie business,” he said. “You’ve got to be ready with the next big opening. The audience that watches these shows is a fickle audience that gets bored faster.”

Reality vs. reality

As the number of summer reality shows continues to increase, it’s more likely such skeins will begin competing directly with each other, as “American” and “Brother” did Wednesday night.

Indeed, NBC and Fox will both bow new reality skeins Wednesdays in the 8 p.m. hour over the next two weeks. And ABC’s “The Mole 2” has been facing off against “American” for much of the summer (with “Mole” doing surprisingly well.)

“Generally, networks are looking at their own needs and scheduling accordingly,” said Kahl. “The trend is toward more original programming. It’s inevitable that these shows are going to start bumping up against each other.”

For CBS, the opening-night ratings for “Big Brother 3” are very encouraging given that it bowed with little fanfare and did face competish from a special one-hour episode of “American Idol.”

Improved bow

Compared with last summer’s “Big Brother 2” preem on a Thursday at 8, Wednesday’s hour was better by 17% in adults 18-49 (4.1/12 vs. 3.5/12) and by 12% in total viewers (9.19m vs. 8.18m).

Also, “Brother” grew by 10% in 18-49 in its second half-hour (4.3/12 vs. 3.9/12). “Brother” will air one-hour episodes for roughly the next 12 weeks, airing primarily Wednesdays (at 9), Thursdays (8) and Saturdays (8).

Despite the summer heat for original reality skeins, the overall news isn’t that great for the nets so far this summer. Thanks to lower-than-ever numbers for repeats, the Big Six are down 10% with adults 18-49 for the first six weeks of the frame.

Fox is flat year-to-year in the demo, while the other five nets are down.

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