'Vegas,' 'OC,' 'Two' keep auds' eyeballs during March

While not an especially great season for first-year series, a handful are hitting their stride in early spring, posting some of their best numbers yet last week.

Dramas “Las Vegas” on NBC and “The OC” on Fox joined unscripted hours “The Apprentice” on NBC and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” in impressing during the final week of March. Also continuing to look good among first-year shows was Eye laffer “Two and a Half Men.”

Overall for the March 22-28 frame, “American Idol”-powered Fox edged past NBC in adults 18-49 (4.3/12 vs. 4.2/12) while CBS, whose sked was off-kilter for a second straight week due to college basketball, ruled in key male demos and led the way as usual in total viewers (11.5 million), according to in-home viewing estimates by Nielsen.

And at the roughly three-quarters mark of the season, NBC narrowly leads Fox in the key adults 18-49 demo (4.2/12 to 4.1/11), with CBS close behind (4.0/11). The Eye is topping the Peacock in adults 25-54 (5.0/12 vs. 4.8/12) and is cruising in total viewers (13.4 million to NBC’s 10.9 million).

Fox’s 18-49 weekly victory, its third straight, came courtesy of another towering Tuesday with a two-hour “American Idol” (week’s No. 1 show with an 11.5/30 in adults 18-49 and 26.97 million viewers overall).

‘Idol’ ideal

Wednesday’s half-hour “Idol” (8.8/23 in 18-49) was dominant, too, and skedmates “That ’70s Show” (5.8/16) and “The OC” (5.2/13) also rocked. Latter first-year sudser, featuring guest star Paris Hilton, set a series high in women 18-34 (7.9/20) and impressively built on its “Idol” lead-in among teens for a second straight week (7.1/22 vs. 6.7/22).

Net’s Thursday drama “Tru Calling” (2.2/6 in 18-49) is hanging in there, but the critically lauded “Wonderfalls” is struggling on Friday (1.4/4 in 18-49) and will get a Thursday tryout this week.

At NBC, “Las Vegas” rolled its best numbers to date (5.9/15 in 18-49, 13.60m), cementing its standing as the season’s top-rated new drama in 18-49, while Thursday reality hit “The Apprentice” (10.8/27 in 18-49, 22.85m) also achieved new highs. The Donald Trump-hosted skein notched the Peacock’s best regular-program ratings in the 9 o’clock hour in 2½ years.

And Sunday’s “Crossing Jordan” (5.3/14 in 18-49) built on its “Law & Order: CI” lead-in (4.7/11) for its best numbers of the season.

At CBS, the NCAA men’s basketball tourney continues to perform ahead of last year’s averages, with Sunday’s nail-biter Duke-Xavier game bleeding into primetime and helping “60 Minutes” draw its largest aud since December (16.74m).

‘Miami’ aces

“CSI: Miami” (7.3/19 in 18-49, 20.33m) and lead-in comedies “Everybody Loves Raymond” (6.4/16 in 18-49) and “Two and a Half Men” (5.9/15) paced the net’s strong Monday. “Men” stands as the season’s No. 1 new comedy in 18-49, consistently retaining more than 90% of its “Raymond” lead-in.

ABC (2.5/7) was really hurting last week, placing closer in 18-49 to fifth-place UPN (1.3/4) than third-place CBS (3.8/11) and down 11% from its already-weak score of a year ago.

Net was dragged down by Monday movie “NTSB: The Crash of Flight 323,” two low-rated nights of “World Figure Skating Championships” and the continued tumbling of Wednesday drama “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital” (2.3/6 in 18-49).

A bright spot has emerged on Sunday, though, where “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” hit new highs (4.6/12 in 18-49, 11.87m) and ranked as the net’s top show of the week.

UPN, lifted by the season finale of “America’s Next Top Model” (Daily Variety, March 25), placed ahead of the WB in all key ratings categories.

With its dramas in repeat, the Frog was paced in 18-34 by Sunday’s “High School Reunion” (1.7/5) and Thursday’s quietly solid “Steve Harvey’s Big Time” (1.6/5). Also, “Jamie Kennedy Experiment” posted Thursday-at-9 season highs for the net.

Among ad-supported cable networks in primetime, USA, TBS and TNT were in a virtual first-place tie among adults 18-49 (0.8 rating), with FX ascending to No. 4. Spike’s “WWE Entertainment” was the No. 1 program in 18-49 (2.4/4), followed by Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show” (1.9/5).

Over at HBO, week two of “Deadwood” (2.5/7 in 18-49, 4.88m) held up pretty well coming out of “The Sopranos” (5.2/12 in 18-49, 9.69m).

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