College basketball and 'American Idol' lead the way

Live television ruled in primetime last week as college basketball on CBS and “American Idol” on Fox carried their respective nets to victory.

The nets battled to a tie in the adults 18-49 demo, with the music megahit dominating midweek and hoops action winning 20 consecutive half-hours of the primetime sked from Thursday to Sunday.

Overall, according to Nielsen estimates for March 15-21, Fox and CBS both earned a 3.2 rating/10 share in adults 18-49, well ahead of NBC (1.9/6) and doubling up ABC (1.6/5). Fox and CBS were well ahead of the pack in other categories, with the Eye prevailing in adults 25-54 (3.9/11 to 3.7/10) and total viewers (10.8 million to 9.2 million) while Fox led in 12-34 (2.4/8 to 2.1/8).

Fox was paced as usual by “American Idol,” both with Tuesday’s two-hour performance episode (8.1/22 in 18-49, 22.91m) and Wednesday’s results show (6.8/20, 20.51m). Show continues to track within about 5% of its year-ago averages.The net also prevailed in Monday’s leadoff hour with “House” (4.0/12 in 18-49, 11.37m) and Wednesday, where rookie drama “Human Target” kicked things off a winner (2.3/8, 8.01m).

The NCAA men’s basketball tourney won three straight nights for CBS, led by Thursday’s late group of games, which averaged a 3.4/11 in 18-49 and 8.88 million viewers overall — up about 10% vs. the comparable action a year ago.

And Sunday’s second-round action provided a nice lead-in for the net’s reality combo of “The Amazing Race” (3.8/9 in 18-49, 11.99m) and “Undercover Boss” (4.4/11, 14.47m), both of which were delayed by about 50 minutes in most of the country. Last week among all series, “Boss” trailed only Fox’s “Idol” in 18-49.

NBC was led by “The Office” (3.6/11 in 18-49, 7.66m) and the shows that followed it on Thursday: “30 Rock,” which hit a three-month demo high (3.0/9, 6.80m), and the new “Marriage Ref” (2.9/9, 7.60m), which grew 12% week to week. Also, “Law and Order: SVU” led its Wednesday hour (2.8/9, 9.65m).

Among recent unscripted additions to the sked, Friday’s “Who Do You Think You Are” held steady (1.7/6 in 18-49, 7.10m), but Sunday’s “Minute to Win It” (1.8/5, 5.11m) and “Celebrity Apprentice” (2.6/7, 6.81m) took a hit opposite atypical competish.

ABC had only two hours of the week where it topped a 3 demo rating — Tuesday with “Lost” (3.9/10 in 18-49, 8.87m) and Sunday with “Desperate Housewives” (3.5/8, 10.84m). Alphabet was unable to excite auds for Thursday’s two-hour return of “FlashForward” (1.9/6, 6.50m).

Dragging the net down was the two-night figure skating special “Thin Ice” (0.6/2 in 18-49, 4.02m on Friday; 0.7/2, 4.33m on Sunday) and a repeat of “FlashForward” that placed 13th on Saturday (0.4/1, 1.65m). (That might explain why net dropped its reruns of “V” March 27 for a repeat of Monday’s big “Dancing With the Stars” premiere.)

At CW, “America’s Next Top Model” looked healthy in its Wednesday season preem (1.7/5 in 18-49, 3.78m), but the lead-in was wasted on alternative series that followed it, “High Society” (0.5/2, 1.18m).

USA led a rather quiet week in cable behind “WWE Raw” (2.0/5 in 18-49, 5.60m for its two-hour average), but the top telecast was Discovery spec “Life” (2.2/5, 6.01m for its two hours Sunday).

FX’s “Justified” opened well on Tuesday (1.6/4, 4.15m), while other standouts for the week included Comedy Central’s returning “South Park” (2.0/6, 3.74m) and Oxygen’s “Bad Girls Club” reunion (1.4/4, 2.66m), with the latter leading all of television in Tuesday’s 10 p.m. hour among women 18-34 (3.0/9).

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