ABC's 'Bachelor' closes strong

In a big frame for reality TV, three nights of “American Idol” helped Fox cruise to another sweep of key demos, while ABC’s “The Bachelor” closed strong and CW’s “America’s Next Top Model” opened nicely.

While “Idol” continues to dominate everywhere it airs, its grip on younger auds is loosening. Although the show is down an acceptable 9% in total viewers vs. the same weeks a year ago, it’s off a steeper 14% in 18-49 and 16% in those 12-34, according to Nielsen.

Despite this relative softness, “Idol” was clearly the top draw last week with its two-hour Tuesday seg (9.0/23 in 18-49, 24.31m), Wednesday’s hourlong results show (7.8/22, 22.78m) and Thursday’s special wildcard episode (7.6/21, 21.50m). The music talent show swept the top three spots in the program rankings and is well on its way to finishing the season as the No. 1 series in 18-49 for a sixth straight year.

And since “Idol” accounted for more than 27% of Fox’s sked, the net had an easy time notching its fifth consecutive weekly 18-49 victory. The net’s 4.1 rating/11 share during the March 2-8 sesh was well ahead of CBS (2.8/8), ABC (2.7/7) and NBC (2.2/6), with Univision placing fifth (1.5/4) and USA sixth (1.1/3).

Fox also won with ease in demos ranging from adults 25-54 (4.8/12) to persons 12-34 (3.2/10), but CBS squeaked past it to claim victory among total viewers (11.23 million to 11.20m).

Outside of “Idol,” Fox’s best numbers came for Thursday’s “Hell’s Kitchen” (4.4/11, 9.71m), which followed “Idol” with a solid second-place demo finish. Wednesday’s post-”Idol” program, first-year drama “Lie to Me” (3.7/9, 10.20m), delivered mediocre numbers.

“Dollhouse” is still drawing a decent young-adult following: It ranked third in its Friday timeslot (1.5/5, 3.57m), but has consistently built by more than 25% when all same-week playback is counted; the rookie show is also hurt by its fifth-place lead-in, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (1.0/4, 2.90m).

CBS was repped in the top 10 by “CSI” (5.3/13 in 18-49, 20.87m), which was above average with an episode guest-starring popular singer Taylor Swift, and “Two and a Half Men” (4.9/11, 15.47m), which held up well opposite “The Bachelor.”

Also of note for CBS was “The Amazing Race” (3.1/8 in 18-49, 10.13m), which scored a rare victory over its ABC unscripted timeslot rival “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (2.9/8, 9.40m). And on Saturday, “48 Hours Mystery” (2.2/7, 8.81m) delivered its best 18-49 score on the night in two years.

ABC was all about “The Bachelor” last week, as the final four hours of its hottest season in years racked up big numbers. The two-hour Monday finale won its timeslot (5.4/13, 15.48m), as did the two-part “After the Final Rose” spec at 10 p.m. on Monday (6.7/16, 17.47m) and Tuesday (4.1/11, 10.90m).

Also solid was top-10 drama “Lost” (4.9/12 in 18-49, 10.65m), while Sunday’s “Desperate Housewives” (4.7/11, 13.65m) was low on the first night of daylight saving time.

Dragging ABC down were weak scores for its Thursday lineup (repeats and a record low for “Ugly Betty”) and Saturday, where a two-hour “Brothers and Sisters” repeat managed a mere 0.6/2 in 18-49.

NBC’s best news came Thursday with the two-hour block of “The Office” (4.5/11, 8.54m), “30 Rock” (3.7/9, 7.25m) and “ER” (3.4/9, 8.71m). “Office” led its timeslot in men 18-49 and all 18-34 demos despite a weak lead-in from “Kath and Kim” (1.8/5, 4.09m), while “ER” dominated its hour (3.4/9, 8.71m) with an episode featuring former regular Noah Wyle.

“The Biggest Loser” (3.5/9, 8.95m) and “The Celebrity Apprentice” (3.2/8, 7.69m) also contributed to the Peacock with two-hour segs.

CW looked healthier last week as “America’s Next Top Model” kicked off its 12th edition with solid numbers for a two-hour seg (1.8/5 in 18-49, 3.92m) — up vs. its most recent opener last September despite opposing “American Idol” for one hour.

USA remained on top of the cable heap thanks to a sizzling season finale for “Burn Notice” on Thursday (2.1/6 in 18-49, 6.09m), which hit series highs and was on par with broadcast dramas in the time period among men 18-49.

At MTV, the finale of “America’s Next Best Dance Crew” (1.6/5 in 18-49, 3.45m) was the week’s No. 1 cable program in 18-34 (2.3/7).

CNN slipped to third place for the week among cable newsers in the 25-54 demo (262,000), settling for less than half of leader Fox News’ delivery (546,000) and also falling well behind MSNBC (326,000). In overall audience, meanwhile, Fox News (2.4 million) once again ranked second to USA among all cablers (3.1 million).

Showtime’s “The L Word” signed off to 756,000 viewers, the show’s third biggest aud ever and its largest since 2004.

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