Emmy ratings are down but not out

The out-of-season — and, some would say, out-of-touch — Primetime Emmy Awards held up reasonably well in the ratings Sunday night … depending on your expectations.

NBC’s broadcast of television’s big night avoided the dreaded “lowest ever” tag that accompanies most awards shows these days by drawing 16.1 million viewers — down from the 18.7 million who watched last year on CBS but up nicely from the 13.8 million ABC drew two years ago.

The Emmys drew fewer overall viewers Sunday than on three occasions between 1987 and 1990 when they aired on Fox.

This year’s numbers aren’t bad for a kudocast that was blasted beforehand by critics, network execs and TV fanatics alike for a revamped nomination process that snubbed some presumed favorites.

Show also was hampered by airing three weeks earlier than usual, when a significant number of potential young-adult viewers were still on vacation or otherwise distracted. Competish was stiff, too, including ABC’s rebroadcast of “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” — which snagged some hefty Nielsen booty — as well as CBS’ “Big Brother” and some cable series finales.

“Pirates,” airing from 7 to 10 p.m., grew in each half-hour and averaged a preliminary 3.8 rating/11 share in 18-49 and 10.2 million viewers overall — the best demo score for a theatrical on television since March 2005 (Fox’s “Independence Day”). It beat the Emmys in its final hour among viewers under 35.

According to preliminary nationals from Nielsen, the three-hour 58th annual Emmycast on NBC averaged a 5.2 rating/14 share in adults 18-49 and 16.1 million viewers overall — the highest demo rating for any TV program since the NBA Finals in mid-June on ABC.

It was down in various categories by 12%-15% from last year’s scores on CBS (6.1/15 in 18-49, 18.7 million viewers overall) but up vs. the 2004 telecast on ABC (4.6/12 in 18-49, 13.8 million), which had held the previous Emmy low-water mark in young adults.

This was the first time since 1992 that the Primetime Emmys have been held prior to Labor Day. NBC’s new Sunday night package of National Football League games meant the awards show had to shift to August if it wanted to remain on Sunday.

The kudocast, which rotates among the four major broadcast nets, is expected to return to its traditional mid-September date next year on Fox.

Because of the unusual airdate this time around, there was considerable competition from cable nets, which traditionally use the final Sunday in August to wrap some of their skeins. HBO’s “Entourage” and “Deadwood” and USA’s “The Dead Zone” and “The 4400″ all aired their season finales.

And then there was ABC, the network of “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Its lone winner Sunday night? The Academy Awards.

But the snubbed net finished a solid second with “Pirates,” which performed much better than it had in its initial airing on the Alphabet last November.

NBC, which kicked off the night with a one-hour “Emmy Red Carpet” special that placed third in its timeslot (prelim 1.9/6 in 18-49, 7.3 million viewers overall), ruled overall Sunday in all Nielsen categories.

CBS saw “Big Brother” hit its best Sunday scores of the summer (prelim 3.0/8 in 18-49, 8.4 million), while Fox didn’t do much with its repeat of “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” (prelim 1.7/5, 4.4 million).

Final ratings for all of Sunday’s programs will be issued today by Nielsen.

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