Series finale nabs best numbers in two years

Despite airing late into the evening and on a special night, auds had no trouble finding ABC’s “Lost” on Sunday as the island mystery wrapped its six-season run with its best scores in more than two years.

The acclaimed show, which gave the Alphabet the mega-jolt it desperately needed when it bowed in fall 2004, was a potent ratings performer throughout its six- year run despite peaking in season two. Some of the viewers it lost along the way returned Sunday, though, as the finale shot up by more than 30% from the show’s penultimate episode.

Also on Sunday, as the finales continue to come in fast and furious, NBC’s conclusion to “Celebrity Apprentice” held up well while Fox’s animated skeins ended their seasons on the low side.

Looking at the preliminary Nielsen nationals, the conclusion of “Lost” averaged a 5.8 rating/15 share in adults 18-49 and 13.5 million viewers overall from 9 to 11:30 p.m., with its final half-hour — which won’t count in the net’s averages because it aired outside primetime — averaging a 6.4/19 in the demo and 15.3 million viewers overall. These are the best scores for the skein since February 2008, and they rep a roughly 30% gain over its fifth-season finale a year ago.

ABC also estimates that 20.5 million viewers watched at least six minutes of the finale episode.

The 5.8 rating in adults 18-49 is the best for a scripted series on any net since an episode of CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” in early March. It also gives ABC, which scored nicely last Thursday with the two-hour season finale of “Grey’s Anatomy” (5.4/15 in 18-49), the May sweep’s top two drama performances among adults under 50.

“Lost” peaked in 2006, when its second season averaged a 6.5 demo rating on Wednesday to rank among TV’s top 10 shows; but despite declines, and thanks in part to fewer repeats, it’s still a top 10 demo show this season. (It was never a big draw in total viewers because it was not that popular among the 50-plus crowd, especially after its first season.)

“Lost,” of course, also hit the airwaves in an era when Americans had more choices than ever when it came to following their faves, including DVD box sets. Add in increased DVR penetration (surpassing 35% of U.S. homes this season) and the show’s availability on ABC.com and Hulu, and its audience was likely more fragmented than ever this season.

According to Nielsen’s Video Census, “Lost” ranks as this season’s most streamed scripted series online, with ABC’s internal research estimating online viewing contributing nearly 10% of its overall audience.

“The more the viewer is in charge of their viewing experience, the more quality programming will win out,” said Charles Kennedy, senior veep of ABC Research. ” ‘Lost’ is perhaps the best example of how great storytelling can thrive on multiple platforms.”

By putting it on Sunday — a night that, thanks largely to the Super Bowl and Academy Awards, has become synonymous with event television — ABC sought to maximize its same-night viewing levels, even if it might have confused some viewers. The extra hour of primetime on Sunday also gave the Alphabet a chance to devote four hours-plus to the show’s send-off.

Kicking off the night for the Alphabet was the two-hour retrospective “Lost: The Final Journey” (prelim 4.0/13 in 18-49, 9.8 million viewers overall), which won its final half-hour by 6 shares in 18-49 — an impressive showing for a clip package. Excluding the Oscars, ABC hasn’t done better in the 7-9 p.m. slot on a Sunday since November 2007.

And in latenight (12:05-1:05 a.m.), the “Jimmy Kimmel Live: Aloha to Lost” spesh averaged a hearty 4.9 million viewers, including 2.7 million adults 18-49 — more than three times the average for the show, which regularly airs weeknights. This is the show’s third-best ratings perf to date, and its best for a telecast that didn’t follow the Super Bowl.

At NBC, “Celebrity Apprentice” (prelim 3.4/9 in 18-49, 9.3 million viewers overall) grew by nearly 50% week to week to place a potent second to “Lost” from 9 to 11. Show, which saw rocker Bret Michaels crowned champion, came in about 10% above last season’s finale.

It’s the skein’s best demo score since last season’s premiere in March 2009, and its largest overall audience for an episode since the previous season’s finale in March 2008. The reality show jumped sharply from its “Minute to Win It” lead-in (prelim 1.7/5 in 18-49, 5.6 million), which itself built from newsmag “Dateline” in the 7 o’clock hour (prelim 1.1/4 in 18-49, 5.2 million).

Fox seemed affected by the “Lost” programming, as the finales of “Family Guy” (3.1/8 in 18-49, 6.3 million from 9 to 10 p.m.), “The Simpsons” (prelim 2.5/8 in 18-49, 5.7 million) and “The Cleveland Show” (prelim 2.3/7 in 18-49, 4.9 million) were all down by double-digit percentages vs. the previous week.

CBS started slowly with “60 Minutes” (prelim 1.0/4 in 18-49, 9.4 million) and then did OK with its two-hour special “Academy of Country Music Presents Brooks & Dunn: The Last Rodeo” (prelim 1.8/5 in 18-49, 10.1 million), which the net clearly positioned as an alternative on the busy night.

Also a ratings factor Sunday was TNT’s coverage of Game 3 of the NBA’s Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns.

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