'Sunday Night Football' propels network

NBC made it five straight seshes atop the primetime leaderboard last week, while Fox was competitive thanks to some season preems and CW had one of its best weeks to date courtesy of its own early launches.

Soft ratings for ABC and CBS aside, it was a busy frame across the dial: Pro football made its return, the Republican National Convention scored record ratings for Fox News Channel, high-profile cable dramas premiered, and MTV scored big with its annual Video Music Awards.

When the dust settled, it was the power of pro pigskin that decided the week’s winner. The Peacock’s “Sunday Night Football” opener between the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts averaged a hearty 7.4 rating/19 share in adults 18-49 and 18.35 million viewers overall, and Thursday’s kickoff spec featuring the New York Giants and Washington Redskins ranked No. 2 for the week (5.4/17 in 18-49, 13.53m).

Overall, NBC’s 3.1 rating/9 share in the 18-49 demo topped Fox’s 2.7/8 and was well ahead of the rest of the pack. Univision ranked third (1.7/5), followed by CBS (1.5/4), CW (1.4/4), ABC (1.3/3) and ESPN (1.1/3).

The weekly victory in 18-49 was NBC’s fifth straight, marking the first time a network other than Fox has been so dominant since ABC in fall 2006. The Peacock also ruled in adults 25-54 (3.6/9), the 12-34 demo (2.3/8) and total viewers (9.2 million).

It wasn’t all about football for NBC, which was also well represented by its news and entertainment divisions. Net earned the top broadcast numbers for Thursday’s coverage of John McCain’s speech at the Republican National Convention (3.4/9, 8.66m), and “America’s Got Talent” was Tuesday’s top show (2.9/8, 10.77m).

Fox, which also benefited from an NFL overrun on Sunday (10.9/37 in 18-49 from 7 to 7:22 p.m.), was paced by the two-hour season preem of “Bones” on Wednesday (3.3/9 in 18-49, 9.74m). It matched last year’s debut in the demo while drawing the show’s largest overall audience since 2005.

Net also saw credible opening scores for two-hour segs of the returning “Prison Break” on Monday (2.7/7 in 18-49, 6.53m) and “Kitchen Nightmares” on Thursday (2.4/7, 5.28m), and its season preem of “America’s Most Wanted” (1.8/5, 5.35m) was Saturday’s top broadcast program. And on Sunday, a special post-football preview of reality show “Hole in the Wall” put up good numbers (3.5/10, 7.15m).

CW matched its strongest week to date in adults 18-34 (1.7/5) thanks to returning skeins “Gossip Girl” (1.7/5 in 18-49, 3.43m), “One Tree Hill” (1.7/4, 3.24m) and “America’s Next Top Model” (1.7/5, 3.51m).

Best news, though, came from Tuesday’s two-hour series preem of “90210” (2.6/7 in 18-49, 4.65m), which ranked 14th for the week in 18-49 and eighth in 18-34 (3.1/9) and was broadcast TV’s top-rated program in women 18-34 (4.5/12). It was the highest-rated series premiere in the net’s two-year history in several demos.

CBS was paced by “Big Brother” on Sunday (2.6/7 in 18-49, 7.20m), and ABC by a repeat of “Wipeout” on Tuesday (2.1/6, 5.84m). Both nets were hampered a bit by having sporting events rained out on Saturday night.

Nielsen did not issue viewer estimates for the three-network simulcast (ABC, CBS and NBC) of “Stand Up to Cancer” on Friday because the special aired sans commercials. In preliminary, affiliate-based results, however, it averaged 10.3 million viewers, with ABC leading the way (3.8 million).

During a week that included the Republican National Convention, Fox News Channel easily stood as primetime’s most-watched cable net (4.19 million), even outdrawing ABC for the frame (4.13 million). Pacing its strong perf were the speeches by Sen. John McCain on Thursday (9.19 million) and Gov. Sarah Palin on Wednesday (9.04 million) — the most-watched nights of convention coverage in cable history.

On Thursday, when an average aud of 38.38 million watched McCain, nearly one fourth of them were tuned to Fox News.

The net’s “O’Reilly Factor” also bagged 6.64 million viewers for the opening installment of an interview with Barack Obama, and a documentary on Sarah Palin drew a sizable aud for a Saturday, 2.73 million.

Elsewhere, Monday was an especially big night on cable, including a college football game on ESPN (2.4/7 in 18-49, 6.24m for UCLA-Tennessee), dramas “The Closer” (2.0/5, 8.05m) and “Raising the Bar” (2.1/6, 7.74m for its series preem) on TNT and “The Hills” on MTV (2.0/5, 3.31m). The commercial-free debut of “Raising the Bar” repped the largest aud on record for the first episode of a cable drama.

And on Tuesday, ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” remained hot (1.3/4 in 18-49, 3.55m), tying CW’s “90210” head-to-head among people 12-34 (2.7/8).

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On Monday of the current week, Fox’s “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” opened with nothing-special numbers in its new timeslot (2.4/7 in 18-49, 6.33m), though it was the top broadcast program in demos. “Prison Break” followed (2.6/6, 6.36m) with numbers similar to its week-earlier season preem.

“Sarah Connor” could have been impacted by the early-starting season preem of “Monday Night Football” on ESPN (5.1/15, 12.50m for Green Bay-Minnesota), which began at 7:05 p.m. ET instead of the usual 8:40.

At CW, “Gossip Girl” (1.7/5 in 18-49, 3.25m) and “One Tree Hill” (1.7/4, 3.28m) held onto nearly all of their strong preem scores, with the net ranking as the night’s top broadcaster in women 18-34 (3.2/9).

In cable news, the second night of Bill O’Reilly’s interview with Obama on Fox News (4.57 million overall, 1.14m in 25-54) crushed Keith Olbermann’s own chat with the Democratic presidential hopeful (1.93 million; 607,000 in 25-54).

And at 9 o’clock, the debut of MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” (1.54 million; 483,000 in 25-54) outdrew CNN’s “Larry King Live” with guest Bob Woodward (1.38m; 383,000 in 25-54), though both were easily topped by FNC’s “Hannity & Colmes” (3.06m; 845,000 in 25-54).

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