Reality competition scores record numbers

ABC kicked up its heels Tuesday with the finale of “Dancing With the Stars,” which gave the Alphabet its best showing on the night in seven years and clinched the net’s third straight November sweep victory among young adults.

The month played true to recent form, with CBS continuing its winning run as well. The Eye will capture at least a share of the sweep in adults 25-54 for a fifth straight season and has now been the most-watched net overall for seven straight November sweeps.

After a decent start to the season, NBC declined the most among the Big Four in November, while Fox showed some gains but remained fourth. CW was down sharply, while Univision was up and has established itself as the nation’s No. 5 broadcaster.

With one night to go, the Big Four were down a combined 8% year to year in 18-49 (13.4 rating vs. 14.5) — not bad considering that about 10% more American homes have DVRs than at this time a year ago. The next-day Nielsen averages are increasingly excluding viewers who choose to watch shows on their own timetables.

In two weeks Nielsen will issue final November data, which will include seven-day DVR playback for the entire four weeks. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Big Four inch closer to the viewing levels of a year ago when these numbers are included.

The ongoing writers strike probably had only a slight impact in this sweep period. A few comedies (CBS’ “the Big Bang Theory” and “Rules of Engagement,” NBC’s “The Office” and Fox’s “Back to You”) aired in repeat or were preempted because they didn’t have enough firstrun episodes or their respective nets saved segs for the new year.

Looking at Tuesday, the two-hour “Dancing With the Stars” finale, in which race-car driver Helio Castroneves took home the trophy, averaged a potent 6.4 rating/15 share in adults 18-49 and 24.88 million viewers overall.

Though down a bit vs. recent finales, these numbers repped season highs for this edition, and the finale teamed with 8 o’clock holiday perennial “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (4.6/12 in 18-49, 13.55m) to help ABC win the night in 18-49 over Fox for the first time this season.

Except for college bowl games, delivery is ABC’s best on a Tuesday in demos since January 2001 and in total viewers since May 2000. The “Dancing” finale is the season’s No. 2 telecast in total viewers, behind only the season preem of CBS’ “CSI” (25.22 million).

Fox’s “House” led the 9 o’clock hour in demos (7.0/16, 16.97m), while NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” (4.6/12, 12.29m) was a healthy No. 2 to “Dancing” at 10 o’clock.

With one day to be counted in the sweep, ABC was averaging a 3.7 rating/9 share in adults 18-49 through Tuesday (down 10% vs. the first 27 days of last November), followed by CBS (3.4/9, down 8%), NBC (3.2/9, down 14%) and Fox (3.1/8, up 3%).

ABC, which should finish down 8% when Wednesday numbers are included, claimed the No. 1 show for the month in “Grey’s Anatomy,” while other returnees including “Dancing,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Brothers & Sisters” also excelled.

Rookies “Private Practice,” “Pushing Daisies” and “Samantha Who?” all contributed, as did vet reality skeins “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “The Bachelor.”

CBS could point to momentum for its regular series, including rookies “The Big Bang Theory” and “Moonlight” — the only two first-year shows on the Big Four to perform better in November than they did in the first part of the season.

Veteran Eye series such as “Two and a Half Men,” “Criminal Minds,” “Without a Trace” and “Ghost Whisperer” also gained some ground on the competition in November, and the net won the last three Thursdays of the month.

NBC claimed the month’s top primetime telecast in 18-49 (Sunday’s New England Patriots-Philadelphia Eagles NFL game did an 8.6/20) but lacked any real fireworks elsewhere. One positive development was that it clocked in as the second youngest-skewing of the Big Four nets (median age: 45.1) and is closer to Fox (41.7) in by that measure than it’s ever been.

“Heroes” remains a top 10 show, and newcomer “Chuck” has performed pretty well leading into it on Monday, but Wednesday’s “Bionic Woman” has faltered after a good start. “Life” is doing OK on Wednesday, and the net is hopeful that it can grow its aud.

Fox had three of the top 10 series for the month in 18-49 — “House” (No. 3), “Family Guy” (No. 6) and “The Simpsons” (No. 8) — with “House” up by double-digit percentages vs. a year ago. Combo of “House” and “Bones” lifted the net to a Tuesday demo victory for the month.

The only newcomer to help the net’s cause much, though, has been Wednesday nonscripted skein “Kitchen Nightmares.” Monday drama “K-Ville” and Friday reality show “Next Great American Band” continued to struggle.

Univision should finish up by about 12% in both 18-49 and 18-34 vs. last November, buoyed by strong numbers for the Latin Grammy Awards and stripped telenovela “Destilando Amor” (Essence of Love). On a weeknight average basis, “Amor” helped Univision stand as the No. 3 broadcaster among adults 18-34 in the 9 o’clock hour.

CW, down 20% or more across the board, has a lot of problem areas — most notably all of Sunday — but continues to get good results from Wednesday’s “America’s Next Top Model,” which wins or challenges for its slot’s lead in 18-34 most weeks, and wrestling’s “Friday Night Smackdown,” which leads its night in male demos.

Among new shows, “Gossip Girl” has done best (matching a season high in November), while “Reaper” is hanging in there on Tuesday.

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