Rookie drama 'Castle' also delivers for network

Viewers flocked to veteran reality programs last week, as Fox’s “American Idol” and the return of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” easily topped the primetime program rankings.

CBS clicked with “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” — both timeslot leaders — while NBC was buoyed by “Biggest Loser” and Fox dined out on “Hell’s Kitchen.”

It was also a big week for Comedy Central, which ranked among the top five cablers in key demos thanks to Sunday’s roast of Larry the Cable Guy and Wednesday’s season preem of “South Park.” Net also made big news — and drew record online traffic — for Jon Stewart’s showdown with CNBC’s Jim Cramer on Thursday.

Overall, “American Idol”-boosted Fox, whose weekly lineup included solid showings for scripted skeins “House” and “Lie to Me,” among others, won the week with ease in key demos.

Though shut out of the top five programs in 18-49, CBS continues to be the most balanced net throughout the week. The Eye claimed eight of the week’s top 20 programs in the demo, compared with four apiece for ABC, Fox and NBC.

Fox’s weekly 18-49 average of a 4.0 rating/11 share was well ahead of CBS (2.8/8), which was followed by ABC (2.5/7), NBC (2.2/6), Univision (1.6/4) and cablers USA and TBS (0.9/3), according to Nielsen estimates.

Fox also ruled among adults 25-54 (4.7/12) and persons 12-34 (3.2/11), while placing a close second to CBS in total viewers (10.9 million to 11.1 million).

Tuesday’s two-hour “American Idol,” in which the top 13 finalists performed selections from Michael Jackson’s songbook, delivered a big 9.5 rating/25 share in adults 18-49 and 25.77 million viewers overall. And the next night’s results show, shifting to its new regular 9 p.m. slot, crushed its competish as well (9.1/23, 25.55m).

Elsewhere for the net, “House” (4.8/13, 12.38m) ran second to ABC’s “Dancing” on Monday; rookie drama “Lie to Me” looked good in its new 8 p.m. slot on Wednesday (first-place 3.4/10 in 18-49, 11.25m); and “Hell’s Kitchen” remained strong on Thursday (3.5/9, 7.71m) even without an “Idol” lead-in.

At CBS, “Two and a Half Men” was the week’s No. 1 comedy (4.8/12 in 18-49, 13.44m), and crime dramas “CSI: Miami” (4.3/11, 14.21m) and “CSI” (4.2/11, 17.13m) made the top 10 as well.

Also, “Survivor” (4.1/12, 12.82m) trounced its timeslot rivals on Thursday, and “The Unit” matched or set season highs in various categories on Sunday (2.7/7, 10.87m).

Overall, the Eye continues to dominate in total viewers, claiming 10 of the week’s top 15 programs.

Leading the way for ABC was Monday’s two-hour season premiere of “Dancing With the Stars” (6.1/15 in 18-49, 22.83m), which drew the largest overall aud to date for an opening night. The Alphabet was also on top Sunday behind “Desperate Housewives” (5.1/12, 14.60m) and “Brothers and Sisters” (3.6/9, 10.43m).

Monday saw an OK bow for murder mystery series “Castle” (3.0/8, 10.76m), which then held up well in its second outing to kick off this week (2.9/8, 10.97m).

NBC didn’t get any help from its pair of premieres: Both Wednesday reality series “Chopping Block” (1.4/4 in 18-49, 3.77m) and Sunday drama “Kings” (1.6/4, 6.08m) ran last among the major nets in their timeslots.

Best news for the Peacock was Tuesday’s “Biggest Loser” (3.8/10 in 18-49, 9.38m), which weighed in with the net’s best-ever series delivery opposite a two-hour “American Idol.”

Also, guest appearances by former cast members George Clooney, Eriq La Salle, Julianna Margulies and Noah Wyle lifted “ER” to a timeslot victory (4.0/11, 10.86m). Growing for a fourth straight telecast as it nears its April 2 series finale, the medical drama logged its best numbers in more than 16 months.

CW was paced by “America’s Next Top Model” (1.9/6 in 18-49, 4.45m), which was up vs. its week-earlier season preem and ran second for its Wednesday hour among adults 18-34 (2.1/7). Also, “Smallville” remains solid on Thursday (1.6/4, 3.57m).

Univision again excelled on Friday, where it has ranked as America’s top network among adults 18-34 for 13 straight weeks. Leading the way was recent newcomer “Manana Es Para Siempre” (Tomorrow Is Forever) (1.9/6 in 18-49, 5.18m).

Although USA remained on top in demos, it had to share first place among the cable nets in total viewers (2.61 million) with Disney Channel, which got a boost Sunday from animated feature “Cars” (4.65 million) and a strong showing by “Hannah Montana” (4.42 million).

Also for Disney Channel, “Phineas and Ferb” drew its best numbers (3.7 million viewers, 1.4 million tweens 9-14) since the show’s February 2008 premiere, standing as Friday’s most-watched cable program.

Comedy Central’s “South Park” kicked off its 13th season with good numbers Wednesday (1.8/5 in 18-49, 3.41m), easily beating its 10 p.m. broadcast competish in 18-34 (2.8/8). And “Roast of Larry the Cable Guy” was Sunday’s top cable program in key demos (2.0/5 in 18-49, 4.08m).

Making headlines during the week was “The Daily Show,” which drew its second best numbers of the season (1.1/4 in 18-49, 2.32m) for Thursday’s showdown between Stewart and Cramer. The following day, TheDailyShow.com registered its most unique viewers to date (1.1 million).

Among the news nets, CNN’s struggles continued as its average primetime 25-54 aud (253,000) was not only less than half that of Fox News (523,000) but also well behind MSNBC’s (304,000) and just a hair ahead of Headline News (246,000).

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