Peacock gives big victory squawk with 'Apprentice'

HOLLYWOOD — A boffo finish to the first season of unscripted hit “The Apprentice” helped deliver easy ratings victories for NBC last week — and now has the Peacock sitting pretty for the season.

According to in-home viewing estimates by Nielsen for the April 12-18 frame, NBC towered over its competish in adults 18-49 (4.5 rating/13 share), a full ratings point over second-place Fox (3.5/10), with CBS third (3.1/9) and ABC fourth (2.7/8).

Peacock also prevailed easily in adults 25-54 (5.1/13) and adults 18-34 (4.2/14) and handed the Eye net a rare setback in total viewers, averaging 11.6 million to 10.8 million for CBS.

Big week has enabled NBC to virtually lock up the season in the closely watched adults 18-49 demo, leading second-place Fox by a solid two-tenths of a ratings point with just over five weeks to go (4.2 vs. 4.0). Season ends May 26, culminating with a four-week sweep period that the Peacock is expected to win thanks in part to series finales of “Friends” and “Frasier.”

NBC has also been making a move in the adults 25-54 demo. After topping season leader CBS for the eighth time in the last 10 weeks, the Peacock has shaved the Eye’s advantage to two-tenths of a point (5.0 to 4.8). A tie or a narrow NBC victory now appears likely for the season.

Eye top in overall auds

CBS remains the dominant net in overall audience for the season, averaging 13.2 million viewers weekly.

For NBC, “The Apprentice” finale on Thursday racked up the third-best adults 18-49 score (13.6/34) for any entertainment telecast of the season and the strongest result for any NBC telecast in 18 months (Daily Variety, April 19).

Donald Trump-hosted skein also perked up the Peacock sked elsewhere during the week, as “Dateline” editions on Wednesday and Friday both performed well. (By Saturday, though, viewers had had enough: A repeat of Thursday’s two-hour finale finished last among the major nets.)

NBC also saw Monday’s “Miss USA” pageant notch its best results in eight years (4.9/12 in 18-49, 13.10m), and received more strong results from Sunday’s “Crossing Jordan” (5.1/13 in 18-49, 13.31m). “Jordan” built on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” whose 4.8/11 in 18-49 tied with HBO’s “The Sopranos” for the demo lead in a crowded 9 o’clock drama hour that also included ABC’s “Alias” (3.5/8) and an off-night seg of Fox’s “24” (3.0/7).

Fox’s week was highlighted as usual by “American Idol,” although a late tweaking of the sked necessitated by President Bush’s Tuesday press conference resulted in diminished numbers for the show’s 30-minute results program (6.2/19 in 18-49, 15.33m), shifted to Thursday opposite “Survivor” and “Friends.”

Big night for Fox was Wednesday, where the one-hour perf seg of “Idol” (9.7/28 in 18-49, 23.10m) led into a slot victory at 9 for “The OC” (4.4/11 in 18-49, 10.49m).

CBS was paced by its strong Thursday, with “Survivor,” “CSI” and “Without a Trace” each cracking the weekly top 10 in adults 18-49 (and top five in total viewers) despite stepped-up competish from “The Apprentice” and “American Idol.”

For ABC, new laffer “The Big House” continues to perform pretty well: After getting some post-“My Wife and Kids” exposure in a special Wednesday outing, the family comedy retained all of its lead-in from “George Lopez” (2.2/9 in 18-49) on its regular night, Friday.

The WB, adding more firstrun programs to its lineup, easily defeated UPN for fifth place in adults 18-34 (1.6/5 vs. 1.0/3). Hitting season highs in net’s core demo of femmes 12-34 were Sunday’s “High School Reunion” (2.9/8) and Tuesday’s “One Tree Hill” (4.3/12).

Among ad-supported cable nets, TNT used the first of its NBA Playoff telecasts to open up a wide lead on USA among adults 18-49 (0.86 vs. 0.67). History Channel, boosted by multinight drama “Band of Brothers,” ranked fourth in 18-49, third in 25-54 and second in men 25-54.

Sunday, USA’s premiere of two-part pic “Spartacus,” starring “ER’s” Goran Visnjic, averaged a 1.3/3 in 18-49 and 3.81 million viewers overall. It wrapped the next night with an average aud of 3.23 million.

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On Monday of the current week, Fox’s “The Swan” looked a little prettier (4.4/11 in 18-49, 10.08m), building on its repeat “American Idol” special lead-in (3.5/10 in 18-49, 8.49m) and growing from its week-earlier numbers.

But it was a sluggish second-season premiere for NBC’s “The Restaurant” (3.4/9 in 18-49, 6.51m). Latter skein was dominated by CBS drama “CSI: Miami” (7.3/19 in 18-49, 21.02m), which was the top-rated show of the night, matched its best 25-54 delivery of the season (9.3/22) and helped the Eye roll to victory.

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