Tight Monday ratings race

NBC continues to struggle with 'Chuck'

College basketball put CBS within striking distance of victory last week, but “American Idol” helped power Fox to an eighth straight demo triumph.

As the season enters the homestretch, meanwhile, it remains slow going for the midseason shows that have bowed in recent weeks.

NBC’s “Kings” is floundering on Sunday, and Wednesday cooking competish “Chopping Block” landed there after another woeful outing last week. At ABC, “Castle” hasn’t excited auds on Monday, and neither “Better Off Ted” nor “In the Motherhood” is off to a great start — although both of those laffers will get a chance to improve this week as they move out of the way of Fox’s “Idol.”

Every network still has at least one series yet to bow this season, including ABC’s “Cupid,” which debuted Tuesday night.

Fox’s victory last week put an exclamation point on its demo triumph in the March sweep, which was held one month later than usual due to the start of the digital transition (which itself has been pushed back to June).

Through Monday, Fox led in adults 18-49 with a 3.7 rating/10, according to Nielsen. It was followed by CBS (3.1/9), ABC (2.6/7) and NBC (2.1/6).

CBS, ABC and MyNetwork will all finish up in various categories vs. February 2008, a month that featured a dearth of firstrun episodes due to the writers strike.

For the week of March 23-29, Fox led in adults 18-49 with a 3.8 rating/10 share, followed by CBS (3.3/9), ABC (2.8/8), NBC (2.2/6), Univision (1.7/5) and USA (1.0/3).

Fox also led in adults 25-54 (4.4/11) and persons 12-34 (3.0/10), but CBS held the advantage among total viewers (11.4 million to 10.3 million).

“American Idol” had a strong showing on Wednesday (9.3/24 in 18-49, 26.03 million viewers overall) with a two-hour performance episode that was pushed back a day due to President Obama’s Tuesday press conference. It beat its ABC-CBS-NBC-CW competish combined.

And although low by “Idol” standards, a special Thursday results show rolled in that night’s opening hour (7.7/21, 23.10m) to place second in the rankings for the week.

Also in the demo top 10 for Fox were Thursday’s “Hell’s Kitchen” (4.5/11 in 18-49, 10.13m) and Sunday’s “Family Guy” (4.2/10, 8.12m).

At CBS, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament continues to trend ahead of last year’s pace, led by Friday’s Michigan State-Kansas contest, which ranked eighth for the week in 18-49 (4.1/13, 11.00m). That perf easily gave CBS its top Friday of the season, and it was the top scorer for the tourney’s second Friday in four years.

Heading into the Final Four, basketball was averaging a 5.9 overnight household rating/12 share, up 7% from last year’s 5.5/12.

A standout among entertainment series for CBS was Sunday’s “Amazing Race” (3.7/9 in 18-49, 11.99m), which logged its best demo scores in more than a year.

ABC was paced by “Grey’s Anatomy” (5.6/13 in 18-49, 16.10m) and “Dancing With the Stars” (5.0/13, 20.34m), with the former drawing its largest overall aud since its season preem last September. In the hour leading into “Grey’s Anatomy,” comedy “In the Motherhood” didn’t do much in its bow (2.2/6 in 18-49, 6.70m), although it was up a tad vs. “Ugly Betty” in the slot the previous week.

Also, Monday drama “Castle” dropped off its third week (2.5/7, 9.14m), and Wednesday comedy “Better Off Ted” (1.8/5, 4.60m) was overwhelmed by “Idol” in its second outing on Wednesday.

Best ratings news for NBC came from Thursday’s “The Office” (4.5/11 in 18-49, 8.65m), which ranked fifth for the week in 18-49 and third — behind only “American Idol” — among adults 18-34 (5.4/14).

Other highlights included two-hour reality skeins “Biggest Loser” (4.1/11, 9.83m) and “Celebrity Apprentice” (3.3/8, 8.66m) as well as the penultimate episode of “ER” (3.5/9, 10.35m).

Among new shows, Sunday’s “Kings” remains soft (1.3/3, 4.51m), although it didn’t hurt lead-out “Apprentice,” which shot up week to week and dominated its second hour.

Univision scored big Thursday with its three-hour “Premio Lo Nuestro 2009” (2.9/8 in 18-49, 6.60m) — the top numbers to date for the annual kudocast honoring the best in Latin music. For the night, Univision trailed only Fox and ABC among adults 18-34 (3.2/9).

And CW was led in 18-49 by “Smallville” (1.6/4, 3.80m), while Tuesday soph drama “Reaper” hit season highs (1.1/3, 2.70m) up against the Obama press conference on other nets.

USA led the cable pack as usual, led by “WWE Raw” on Monday (2.0/5 in 18-49, 5.16m).

Among entertainment skeins, TLC’s “Jon and Kate Plus 8” (2.1/5, 4.60m) and ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” (1.5/4, 4.49m) ended their seasons on high notes. And Nickelodeon scored big with Saturday’s “Kids’ Choice Awards” (1.5/5, 7.68m) — the week’s most-watched cable program overall.

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