'Idol,' pigskin provide edge

The race for the season’s demo crown has been narrowed to CBS and Fox after big events on those nets dominated last week’s action.

ABC remains the No. 1 network in nonsports averages, and NBC stands as the most improved, but at roughly the halfway point of the season, the Eye and Murdoch nets are positioned to lead down the stretch in adults 18-49.

Jan. 15-22 frame produced the season’s three highest-rated primetime telecasts in the AFC Championship game on CBS (17.6 rating/39 share in adults 18-49, 46.7 million viewers overall), Tuesday’s “American Idol” premiere on Fox (15.8/36, 37.44m) and Wednesday’s “Idol” (15.5/36, 36.94m).

Fox carried the week with a huge 6.3 rating/15 share in adults 18-49 — the largest for any net since Super Bowl week a year ago on ABC and the best delivery for any net without sports help in nearly four years.

CBS was a strong second (5.4/14), with ABC (3.1/8) and NBC (3.0/8) well behind. The Eye led in total viewers with 16.5 million — the largest weekly aud for any net since in nearly a year; Fox had 15.2 million.

In the adults 18-49 season race at the midway point (18 weeks), CBS led with a 3.8 rating, followed by ABC and NBC (both 3.6) and Fox (3.3).

Fox will be the top-rated net in most weeks from here on out thanks to the multinight “American Idol” and “House,” the smash Tuesday hit that figures to fare even better now that “Idol” precedes it.

In addition to its top-rated entertainment series in “CSI,” the Eye can also count on a boost from the Super Bowl, the Grammy Awards, the NCAA basketball title game and the series finale of “King of Queens.”

The Eye also looks to be a lock to capture the season once again in both adults 25-54 and total viewers, leading comfortably in both. And Fox has moved into the lead in the 12-34 demo (2.8/9), a category it should come to dominate by season’s end.

Back to last week, the top program was Sunday’s NFL showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots (Daily Variety, Jan. 23) — the most-watched American Football Conference title game in 21 years.

In both demos and total viewers, it was the top-rated non-Super Bowl program on television since the series finale of “Friends” on NBC in May 2004.

It was also a huge week for “American Idol,” which is off to its best start to date.

Tuesday’s two-hour opener easily delivered the show’s highest-rated preem to date, outperforming last year’s bow by 3%. It also came in as the week’s No. 1 telecast in viewers 12-34 (14.6/38).

Also for Fox, “24” (5.9/14, 15.73m) bowed on its regular night opposite the Golden Globes and was on par with the previous year’s delivery on the night. Sixth-season skein beat the kudocast in key male demos.

In addition to Sunday’s football game, CBS was led by “CSI” on Thursday (6.9/16, 21.41m) and its lead-out “Shark” (4.4/12, 15.09m). Latter first-year drama led its hour (opposite a repeat “ER”) and matched its best delivery to date in key demos.

Net’s “NCIS” (3.7/9 in 18-49, 15.95m) also impressed despite “Idol” competish — off just 10% from its firstrun season average and remaining in the top 10 for the week in total viewers.

ABC was led by Thursday’s “Grey’s Anatomy” (8.7/20, 21.94m) and the second best delivery to date for skedmate “Ugly Betty” (4.5/12, 14.10m).

Alphabet’s Sunday dramas “Desperate Housewives” (6.7/13, 17.14m) and “Brothers & Sisters” (4.6/10, 11.79m) held up pretty well opposite football, and Monday’s unscripted combo of “Wife Swap” (3.7/9, 8.36m) and “Supernanny” (3.9/9, 8.99m) hit season highs.

NBC was led by the “64th Annual Golden Globe Awards” (6.5/15 in 18-49, 20.04m), which drew the kudocast’s best numbers in three years — and the Peacock’s strongest Monday demo delivery (excluding the Olympics) in more than 2½ years.

Also winning their timeslots in 18-49 for NBC were Tuesday’s “Law & Order: SVU” (4.7/12, 14.17m), Thursday’s “My Name Is Earl” (4.2/12, 9.77m) and Friday’s “1 vs. 100″ (2.5/8, 8.81m) and “Las Vegas” (2.8/8, 8.55m).

Fifth-place Univision enjoyed its strongest week of the season as weeknight telenovela “La fea mas bella” averaged a best-yet 6.2 million viewers for the week.

The CW was paced by “Smallville” (2.3/6 in 18-49, 5.26m), which logged its best numbers since last February on the WB. And skedmate “Supernatural” (1.5/4, 3.44m) had its best showing since Oct. 26.

At the halfway point of the season, the newbie net is up a tick over the WB’s 18-34 average of a year ago (1.5 vs. 1.4).

USA led the cable nets thanks to “WWE Raw” on Monday (1.6/4 in 18-49, 2.81m) and “Monk” (1.3/4, 5.16m) and “Psych” (1.3/4, 3.78m) on Friday.

Outside of wrestling, the top 18-49 draw was Bravo’s “Top Chef” on Wednesday (1.6/4), and the top 25-54 performer was “Monk” (1.8/5).

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On Monday of the current week, the return of “Heroes” (6.6/15 in 18-49, 14.90m) lifted NBC to victory among adults 18-49, while another returning show, Fox’s “Prison Break,” achieved season highs (4.2/10, 9.86m).

In the drama battle at 9, “Heroes,” with its first original seg since Dec. 4, won out over Fox’s “24” (5.4/12, 14.47m), which held tough and was down only a bit week to week. “Heroes,” the season’s No. 1 new show in various categories, led in every key demo except men 25-54.

NBC’s “Deal or No Deal” (5.2/13, 17.61m) remained the pace-setter at 8 o’clock, as did CBS drama “CSI: Miami” (6.1/15, 18.86m) at 10, with both on the high end.

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