CBS beats Fox in weekly ratings race

It’s not often that Fox is upstaged during “American Idol” premiere week, but CBS has turned the trick with the best weekly average for any network this season.

The Eye, riding record numbers for its Monday comedy block, a big aud for William Petersen’s farewell on “CSI” and huge numbers for football’s AFC Championship game, held off Fox last week.

That’s not to say “Idol” was any slouch. The show, which bumped up its preem by a week compared to recent years, may have been down vs. last year, but its opening nights accounted for the season’s two top entertainment telecasts.

It’s just that the AFC Championship game now tops everything for the season. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 23-14 victory over the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC title was watched by an average aud of 40.64 million viewers and earned a 14.7 rating/36 share in adults 18-49.

Overall for the Jan. 12-18 frame, CBS led in adults 18-49 with a 5.0 rating/13 share, followed by Fox (4.8/12), ABC (2.4/6), NBC (1.9/5), Univision (1.5/4) and USA (1.1/3). CBS also led in adults 25-54 (6.2/15) and total viewers (17 million), while Fox won among adults 18-34 (4.2/12).

CBS maintains a slim lead on Fox for the 18-49 lead at roughly the midway point of the season (3.2/9 vs. 3.1/8), with ABC and NBC tied for third (2.9/8).

For CBS, the AFC Championship punctuated what was a strong week regardless, starting with best-ever deliveries for “The Big Bang Theory” (4.4/11 in 18-49, 11.81m) and “How I Met Your Mother” (4.8/12, 11.76m), and season highs for “Two and a Half Men” (5.6/13, 17.10m).

The net’s Tuesday dramas “NCIS” (3.7/9 in 18-49, 18.62m) and “The Mentalist” (3.8/9, 18.07m) retained more than 90% of their prior-week audience despite facing “American Idol.” Laffers “Old Christine” (1/9/5, 7.17m) and “Gary Unmarried” (2.1/5, 6.96m) held up similarly well opposite the megahit the next night.

Thursday saw “CSI” (6.6/16 in 18-49, 24.25m) draw its largest aud since September 2007 for Petersen’s swan song (Daily Variety, Jan. 18). And “Flashpoint” (2.3/7 in 18-49, 10.28m) was one of three CBS drama winners on Friday, logging the best regular-slot score at 9 o’clock in about a year.

At Fox, “American Idol” rolled on both Tuesday (11.7/28 in 18-49, 30.42m) and Wednesday (11.8/30, 30.32m), with its second night increasing over its premiere in 18-49 for the first time in five years.

For its two nights, “Idol” was down 11% vs. last year in 18-49 (11.8/29 vs. 13.2/31) and 14% in 18-34 (10.3/28 vs. 12.0/31) but just 5% in total viewers (30.37 million vs. 31.97m).

Also for the net, “24” returned to potent numbers on Monday (4.1/10 in 18-49, 12.31m), airing on its regular night for the first time in 20 months.

ABC was led by “Grey’s Anatomy” (5.3/12 in 18-49, 13.10m), though it was on the low end opposite the big “CSI.” Similarly, “Desperate Housewives” took a hit opposite the AFC Championship game but nonetheless was Sunday’s top non-sports program (4.6/10, 13.08m).

The Alphabet continues to get improved perfs out of its 10 p.m. timeslot thanks to Monday’s “True Beauty” (2.8/7 in 18-49, 6.46m), Tuesday’s “Primetime: What Would You Do?” (2.8/7, 7.30m) and Thursday’s “Private Practice” (3.3/8, 8.49m), which is meshing pretty well with “Grey’s Anatomy.”

NBC was repped in the top 20 by only “The Office” (4.4/10 in 18-49, 8.49m) and “The Biggest Loser” (3.3/8, 8.86m), with the latter coming in 10% above its perf on the opening night of “American Idol” a year ago.

The network is seeing higher ratings on Friday with the unlikely combo of “Howie Do It?” (1.8/6 in 18-49, 6.02m for its hour) and the acclaimed drama “Friday Night Lights” (1.6/5, 4.53m), which had its preem on NBC after airing its entire season on DirecTV.

CW was led by some of the best numbers of the season for Thursday’s “Smallville” (1.8/5 in 18-49, 4.30m). Also, “One Tree Hill” was on the rise (1.4/3 in 18-49, 3.06m), but Tuesday dramas “90210” (1.1/3, 2.18m) and “Privileged” (0.5/1. 1.12m) took a hit opposite Fox’s “Idol.”

USA easily led the cable nets thanks to “WWE Raw” (2.0/5, 5.21m from 9 to 11 p.m.) as well as original dramas “Monk” (1.2/4, 4.94m), “Psych” (1.0/3, 3.65m) and numerous repeats of “House.”

Elsewhere, ABC Family drew a big 5.3 million viewers Sunday for the premiere of original movie “Another Cinderella Story,” making it cable’s No. 1 scripted telecast of the week in 12-34 (2.4/7) and total viewers. It’s also the third-largest aud on record for the network, behind only a pair of Christmas pics.

The net’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” (1.1/3, 3.14m) dipped following its boffo season preem of the previous week, but still drew a strong 3.6/10 among femmes 12-34; it then was on the rebound to about 3.9 million viewers on Monday of the current week.

Fox News ran second to USA among cable networks in total viewers (2.1 million vs. 3.2 million), marking the 21st time in the past 24 weeks the net has placed in the top 5. The network got a boost from Thursday’s brief farewell speech from President Bush, which averaged 4.86 million viewers.

Also, VH1’s “Real Chance at Love” finished its first season with best-yet numbers (1.9/5 in 18-49, 4.19m); A&E’s Patrick Swayze drama “The Beast” got off to a so-so start on Thursday (0.8/2 in 18-49, 2.40m); two segs of laffer “Meet the Browns” and repeats of “Family Guy” put TBS on top of cablers in 18-34; and Lifetime Movie Network drew 1.61 million viewers for its Sunday preem of “What Color Is Love?,” which drew the third-largest female demos in the net’s 10-year history.

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