Auds tune into college bowl games, NFL finales

As the football season nears its end, auds turned out in big numbers last week for college bowl games and regular-season finales in the NFL. Fox won the week in key demos but ESPN surged to a second-place finish.

By week’s end, femmes were happy to see the return of one of their favorites, ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” which hit season highs.

Overall, according to same-night viewing estimates by Nielsen, Fox led in adults 18-49 with a 2.6 rating/7 share and was followed by ESPN and ABC (both 2.0/6), CBS (1.8/5), NBC (1.7/5), Univision (1.1/3) and USA (1.0/3).

Fox also prevailed in demos as varied as adults 25-54 (2.9/7) and persons 12-34 (2.1/7), but CBS still won out in total viewers (8.25 million to 7.32 million for Fox).

It was a tie for the week’s top primetime program in adults 18-49 between ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” (6.1/18 in adults 18-49, 17.01 million viewers overall) and NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” (6.1/15, 16.33m), with the former leading the pack in total viewers as well.

Both packages wrapped their seasons with the best numbers yet since moving to their respective networks in 2006.

Football also scored big for Fox on Friday with the Sugar Bowl matchup between Florida and Cincinnati (5.1/14 in 18-49, 15.53m).

And an NFL overrun on Sunday helped give a boost to comedies “The Simpsons” (4.0/10, 8.55m), “Family Guy” (4.0/9, 8.16m) and “The Cleveland Show” (3.3/8, 6.94m).

At ABC, its Sunday lineup delivered its strongest numbers in nearly a year thanks to season highs for both “Desperate Housewives” (5.3/12 in 18-49, 15.35m) and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (2.7/7, 10.15m), and near-season highs for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (3.3/8, 10.98m) and “Brothers and Sisters” (3.5/9, 10.78m).

The Alphabet got a sports boost from the late-afternoon New Year’s Day telecast of the “Rose Bowl” (7.0/22, 24.02m for the Ohio State-Oregon matchup), although only the final half-hour or so counted in its primetime averages.

ABC also scored with a special “20/20″ edition on Tuesday featuring the real story behind the hit movie “Blind Side” (2.3/7, 8.04m), which won its 10 p.m. slot, and dominated that hour on New Year’s Eve with “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2010″ (2.7/10, 8.21m).

But it did suffer one indignity during the week, when Wednesday’s firstrun episode of struggling rookie drama “Eastwick” (0.9/3, 2.98m) finished behind a repeat of NBC’s “The Jay Leno Show” (1.3/4, 4.38m)

CBS didn’t have a whole lot happening during the week, but remained competitive thanks to well-performing repeats including “The Big Bang Theory” (3.0/8 in 18-49, 9.93m) and “Criminal Minds” (2.4/7, 11.06m).

Tuesday’s telecast of the “Kennedy Center Honors” (1.6/5 in 18-49, 9.63m) was down in most categories year to year, but hit a four-year high in adults 18-34 (1.1/4).

Aside from “Sunday Night Football,” it was a very quiet week at NBC, which opted to use the lightly watched frame as a chance to expose its Thursday comedies to a new audience. It aired four episodes of each of its laffers on various nights, and not surprisingly “The Office” fared best in its mini-marathon on Wednesday (averaging a 1.5/4 in 18-49).

Spanish-language net Univision was the No. 1 broadcast network among adults 18-34 on the first three nights of the week with its telenovela-fronted regular lineup. It also out-delivered ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox six out of seven nights among both adults 18-34 and teens 12-17.

In cable, ESPN’s bowl bonanza included Saturday’s Alamo Bowl (2.5/8 in 18-49, 7.83m for Texas Tech-Michigan State), Thursday’s Chick-Fil-A Bowl (2.3/8, 7.51m for Virginia Tech-Tennessee), Wednesday’s Holiday Bowl (1.9/6, 6.14m for Nebraska-Arizona) and Tuesday’s Champs Sports Bowl (1.8/5, 6.22m for Wisconsin-Miami).

Of note on the entertainment series side were more good perfs for A&E’s Monday combo of “Hoarders” (1.4/4, 2.99m) and “Intervention” (1.2/3, 2.47m) and a nice start for MTV’s “Real World D.C.” (1.0/3, 1.88m), which won its Wednesday hour in women 18-34 (1.9/7).

And E!’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” had another monster outing Sunday (2.4/6 in 18-49, 4.35m), racking up a big 4.6 rating in women 18-34.

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