Reality audiences expand week over week

HOLLYWOOD — As the dog days of summer wear on, no reality program has caught fire in the ratings. But some are heating up.

Last week saw the best scores yet for CBS’ “Big Brother 4″ and Fox’s “Paradise Hotel” and best-since-preem ratings for the Eye’s “Amazing Race 4.” Also, a trio of NBC programs, “The Restaurant,” “For Love or Money 2″ and “Who Wants to Marry My Dad,” shot up nicely in their second weeks.

Elsewhere, NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and “Dog Eat Dog” continue to do pretty well and Fox’s “American Juniors” and CBS’ “Cupid” are holding their own.

On the other hand, NBC’s “Fame” and the WB’s “Boarding House: North Shore” went out with a whimper Wednesday, as even their finales failed to generate much of a ratings surge. And Fox’s “Banzai” has faded after a decent start.

“Big Brother” exec producer Allison Grodner said with the avalanche of reality skeins this summer, she had some early concerns about how the glut might affect her ratings.

“But the good news is, I don’t think ‘Big Brother’ is suffering because of the competition,” she said. “We’re just as successful as last season, if not more. We expected to take a hit, but from what we’re seeing, we’re not, knock on wood. There seems to be room for everyone.”

Fox alternative topper Mike Darnell calls “Paradise Hotel” the net’s “little show that could.”

“The ratings have been going up because of word of mouth,” he said. “It’s a terrific soap opera, and the injection of new people each week ensures people don’t get bored.”

There’s no evidence that any of this year’s bumper crop of reality concepts will achieve the “American Idol”-size numbers of last summer, but Darnell thinks “Paradise” could end up being what “Big Brother” has become to CBS.

” ‘Big Brother’ is a show that you can return every summer and viewers will just come right back,” he said. “I think ‘Paradise Hotel’ could be (that kind of) long-term success.”

“Restaurant” exec producer Mark Burnett is hopeful his latest skein will follow a similar pattern, and sees evidence that’s already started to happen.

“When people are emailing me saying they’re having ‘Restaurant’ parties on Sunday nights, you know something’s happening,” he said. “And you’ve got to be happy when you return for a second week and your core audience is still there and you’re also adding new, younger viewers.”

There are still more unscripted programs yet to bow, including this week’s “Race to the Altar” on NBC and the relaunch of “The Family” on ABC. The following week will see ABC’s “Real Roseanne Show” debut as well as Fox’s scripted drama “The O.C.” — the first of the upcoming season’s premieres.

In overall viewing averages for the week of July 21-27, NBC was an easy winner in both adults 18-49 (2.8/9) and 25-54 (3.3/10), according to Nielsen. Net has now won all nine weeks this summer in these categories, its best stretch in the key 18-49 demo since the spring of 2002.

NBC again also nosed out CBS for the week’s lead in overall total viewers.

The Peacock won five nights in 18-49 (including a tie with Fox on Tuesday), with four of its unscripted programs ranking among the week’s top 10 in the demo. The Monday combo of “For Love or Money 2″ (3.9/11) and “Who Wants to Marry My Dad” (3.8/11) built week-to-week to win their hours, hitting new highs on Monday of the current week.

Sunday’s “The Restaurant” (3.6/11 in A18-49) dominated the 10 o’clock hour, up 16% from its premiere.

A special 30-minute seg of Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” (3.3/10 in 18-49, 6.94 million viewers overall) performed well Thursday after a “Will & Grace” repeat (3.7/12, 7.93m), drawing more than four times as many viewers as the show attracted two nights earlier on the cabler.

At CBS, which was third in 18-49 and second in 25-54 for the week, “Big Brother 4″ again won all three of its hours in adults 18-49, with Wednesday’s seg netting the best rating for the series this summer (4.0/12). Lead-out “Cupid” (3.3/10) declined week-to-week, finishing further behind a repeat of NBC’s “Law & Order” (4.0/12).

The Eye dominated Thursday, topping NBC by a summer-best 28% in 18-49 and by 36% in 25-54. At 10, “Without a Trace” beat “ER” by a best-yet 71% in adults 18-49 (3.6/11 vs. 2.1/7); last summer, the best the Eye’s “The Agency” could do was top “ER” by 16%.

“Amazing Race” (3.3/12 in 18-49, 8.60m), perhaps boosted by its Emmy nom, won its Thursday hour with its best scores since a 90-minute premiere on May 29. Lead-out “CSI” was the week’s No. 1 program in 18-49 (4.2/13) and total viewers (13.34m).

Fox, third in 18-49, was back on top in adults 18-34, winning for the 26th time in 29 weeks since January.

Fox’s “The Simpsons” was the week’s No. 1 comedy in 18-49 (3.9/13), but lead-out “Banzai” (2.6/8) held onto only two-thirds of that aud.

Net’s faring better with “Paradise Hotel,” whose special Tuesday episode delivered the show’s best numbers yet (3.4/10 in 18-49, 6.51m). The week’s pair of “Paradise” segs ranked as the top two programs among femmes 12-34.

Things were quiet at ABC, which was fourth across the demo board for a third straight week.

Net’s strategy of running mini-marathons of its comedies on Monday appears to be working, as this week extra exposure for “Less Than Perfect” resulted in its best regular-slot showing of the summer: On Tuesday, “Perfect” (3.2/9 in 18-49) held 94% of its “According to Jim” lead-in (3.4/10).

ABC News’ special edition of “Primetime — Sons of Saddam — Hunted Down in Iraq” (2.8/8 in 18-49, 8.53m) won its Tuesday hour and delivered the top 25-54 score of the week for any newsmag (3.7/10).

Among ad-supported cable nets, TNT was the easy winner in adults 18-49 (0.9/3), adults 25-54 (1.0/3) and total viewers (2.32m). Net was powered by Sunday theatrical “G.I. Jane” and the consistent “Law & Order.”

Premiere of FX’s “Nip/Tuck” (1.6/5 in 18-49, 3.70m) was the week’s No. 1 series on basic cable.

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