ABC, CBS, Fox boosted by gridiron auds

Football played a key role in the season’s lightest week of television viewing, as every major broadcast net but NBC benefited from a pigskin push. And ESPN dominated among cablers with its weekend action on the gridiron.

During the week of Dec. 22-28, which saw all of television’s top series in repeat mode, ABC (with “Monday Night Football”), CBS (with a hefty Sunday overrun) and Fox (with a nice Saturday boost) delivered their strongest nights of the week with football’s help, according to Nielsen.

ABC’s “Monday Night Football” matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders ranked as the week’s top program in 18-49 (6.8/20), lifting the Alphabet net to its first victory in the key demo this season. ABC’s 2.8/9 bested CBS (2.6/8) and NBC and Fox, which tied for third with a 2.5/8.

CBS remained on top in total viewers (9.7 million), a category it has now won for nine consecutive weeks.

ABC is a cinch to make it two in a row this week in 18-49 — and to end the Eye’s winning streak in total viewers as well — thanks to postseason college and pro football during the holiday weekend.

For the first time ever, National Football League contests ranked as the most-watched program of the week in all of the league’s 32 markets. Coverage of games on CBS topped the list, with huge metered-market ratings in Milwaukee (45.2/63 for Packers-Broncos) and Kansas City (42.5/71 for Chiefs-Bears).

And ESPN was a dominant No. 1 among basic cablers thanks to a pair of pro and college football games, led by Sunday’s Ravens-Steelers matchup (4.8/13 in 18-49, 10.42m). For the week, ESPN’s 1.6 rating/5 share in adults 18-49 and 4.3 million viewers overall easily bettered the weekly deliveries of UPN and the WB.

Football also helped provide a nice lead-in for Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” which delivered its best rating among adults 25-54 (6.9/17) and 18-49 (5.6/15) in nearly four years and its second largest audience of the season (18.78 million).

First half-hour of the program, which featured Ed Bradley’s interview with the embattled Michael Jackson, attracted 19.6 million viewers.

“60 Minutes” was the week’s most-watched primetime program, a feat the venerable newsmag last achieved in-season in November 1998.

Aside from “Monday Night Football,” which was the frame’s top program in key male demos, ABC also led Thursday among men, with its NBA season opener. Game between the Lakers and Rockets (3.0/10 in 18-49, 7.19m) came in a tad below last year’s Lakers-Kings contest on Christmas.

Net’s original two-part movie “Dreamkeepers” did OK in its Sunday premiere (2.9/8 in 18-49, 9.84m) and concluded Monday of this week with nearly identical numbers.

At CBS, Monday skeins “CSI: Miami” and “Two and a Half Men” were among the week’s top five shows in 18-49, and Friday’s “Kennedy Center Honors,” boosted no doubt by the induction of CBS legend Carol Burnett, drew its largest overall aud in five years (11.19 million).

NBC, which remains the season leader in 18-49, settled for a ho-hum week. Annual Christmas eve airing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” (2.4/9 in 18-49, 6.76m) led each half-hour of primetime Wednesday.

Fox, which won the week in adults 18-34 (2.3/9), received solid but unspectacular numbers for Part One of the “World Idol” music competish Thursday (2.7/9 in 18-49, 6.47m). Net’s top-rated series was a repeat of “The Simple Life” Tuesday (3.5/11 in 18-49).

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