Reality TV wakes up networks

The return of “Hell’s Kitchen” helped heat things up last week for Fox, which rolled to victory among young adults.

“Kitchen” and “So You Think You Can Dance” — which combined to comprise one-third of Fox’s sked for the week — both placed in the top five among adults 18-49. Neither, though, could catch NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” which stood as the week’s top show for a fifth straight frame, according to Nielsen estimates.

Fox’s “Kitchen,” bowing later than usual, was on the low side for a premiere, but it’s one of several shows that figures to give the broadcast biz a boost in the dog days of summer — a season in which cable networks as a group have set ratings records.

Overall, the worst of summer for the Big Four is probably in the rearview mirror. In addition to “Talent,” “Dance” and other top broadcast shows, ABC’s “The Bachelorette” is going out on a high note, and CBS’ “Big Brother” saw its numbers inch up.

The Aug. 9 return of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” to ABC as well as the start of the NFL preseason Sunday on NBC should also boost circulation. And then there’s the upcoming Sunday battle of high-profile nonscripted newbies between ABC’s “Shark Tank” and CBS’ “There Goes the Neighborhood.”

While this new fare is expected to rally the ratings at the Big Four, the nets will also gain by subtraction.

Numerous firstrun shows being burned off on ABC and NBC have dragged down the average of these nets, but they have either wrapped or will shortly. Saturday, for example, saw ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money” (0.4/1 in 18-49, 1.76m) and NBC’s “Kings” (0.4/2, 1.81m) end their runs with similarly scrawny numbers.

Looking at the primetime ratings race for July 20-26, Fox’s 1.8 rating/6 share in adults 18-49 put it comfortably ahead of CBS (1.4/5) and ABC and NBC (both 1.3/4). Univision again placed fifth (1.2/4), followed by top-rated cabler USA (1.0/3).

Fox and CBS tied for the week’s lead among adults 25-54 (2.0/6), while the Eye had it in total viewers (6.2 million to 5.1 million for runner-up NBC), according to Nielsen.

“America’s Got Talent” (3.4 rating/10 share in adults 18-49, 13.75 million viewers overall) edged out a special 9 p.m. seg of Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” (3.3/10, 6.95m) as the week’s No. 1 program in 18-49. Tuesday’s “Talent” also logged the largest overall aud for any series telecast since the season finale of Fox’s “American Idol” more than two months ago.

Also at Fox, “So You Think You Can Dance” scored identical demo scores for its installments on Wednesday (2.9/9, 7.36m) and Thursday (2.9/9, 8.42m).

CBS claimed the week’s only top-10 scripted repeats in Monday laffers “Two and a Half Men” (2.8/8 in 18-49, 9.31m) and “The Big Bang Theory” (2.8/8, 8.79m). And it was repped in the bottom half of the top 20 by all three nights of “Big Brother,” led by Thursday’s live eviction episode (2.1/7, 6.39m).

ABC was paced by the penultimate episode of “The Bachelorette” (2.8/9 in 18-49, 8.04m), and got off to a solid start with the show that followed it, “Dating in the Dark” (2.4/7, 6.15m). “Wipeout” also held up well on Wednesday (2.4/7, 6.43m) despite increased reality competish. These perfs made up for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when the net averaged less than a 1 rating in 18-49.

NBC didn’t have a whole lot to shout about outside of “America’s Got Talent,” as its only other entry in the week’s top 10 was a Tuesday repeat of “Law and Order: SVU” (2.0/6, 7.49m).

Univision was paced in primetime by the Gold Cup soccer semifinal between Mexico and Costa Rica, which drew 5.28 million viewers on Thursday, while MyNetwork claimed one of Friday’s top shows in “WWE Smackdown” (1.0/4 in 18-49, 3.08m).

In cable, USA’s Thursday tandem of “Burn Notice” (1.9/6 in 18-49, 6.80m) and “Royal Pains” (1.8/6, 6.21m) continue to give summer auds what they’re looking for when it comes to new scripted fare — ruling as the top two original scripted programs in both 18-49 and 25-54. “Burn” achieved a new high in total viewers and finished second only to Fox in demos in the 9 o’clock hour.

Nearing its finale, E!’s “Kendra” (1.4/4 in 18-49, 2.43m) posted huge gains and ruled as basic cable’s No. 1 telecast of the week among adults 18-34 (1.9/6). And also ready to wrap its season, Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch” remained hot (1.7/5 in 18-49, 3.44m), standing as Tuesday’s top cable show among young adults.

MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” hit series highs Thursday for the spec “Life After Labor,” averaging a 2.8/11 in femmes 12-34 (making it cable’s top show of the day in this demo) and 2.45 million viewers overall.

At Lifetime, “Drop Dead Diva” (0.8/2 in 18-49, 2.80m) was up in its third week, hitting a high in some young female demos. It’s also helping lead-out “Army Wives” (1.3/4, 3.81m), which was above average and has been steadily gaining femme viewers in recent weeks.

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