Football, scripted hits power the network's ratings surge

Fox’s “American Idol” returned in fine fashion, but big football numbers and its strong scripted lineup lifted CBS to victory in key demos last week.

The Eye claimed half of the week’s top 20 programs in adults 18-49, led by Saturday’s NFL playoff game, which drew the net’s largest audience on the night in nearly 16 years. And as series returned with their first original segs of the new year, CBS accounted for the top scripted shows in several categories with “The Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men” and “NCIS.”

Overall, according to same-night viewing estimates by Nielsen, CBS led the Jan. 11-17 sesh with a 4.7 rating/13 share, with Fox not far behind (4.5/12). They were followed by NBC (2.3/6), ABC (2.1/6), Univision (1.3/4) and USA (0.9/2).

CBS also led in adults 25-54 (5.8/14) and total viewers (16.36 million), collecting the best numbers for any network this season.

Pro football played a key role for the Eye last week, including Saturday’s Divisional Playoff round matchup between Indianapolis and Baltimore (11.0/31 in 18-49, 12.84m), which gave the net its best Saturday demos in two years and its largest overall aud on the night since the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994. And on Sunday, the concluding hour of the New York Jets-San Diego Chargers contest drew more than 41 million viewers to kick off primetime.

Among series, CBS brought the laughs on Monday as “How I Met Your Mother” (3.9/10 in 18-49, 9.77m) and “Two and a Half Men” (5.4/13, 17.27m) hit season highs, and “The Big Bang Theory” established series bests (5.7/14, 15.82m).

Also notable was Tuesday vet “NCIS” (4.3/11 in 18-49, 20.85m), which impressively was at roughly its season averages despite facing “American Idol,” and “Criminal Minds” (3.8/10, 13.90m). Latter also held up on Wednesday against the behemoth.

At Fox, “American Idol” kicked off its ninth season with a dominant two-hour installment on Tuesday (11.8/29 in adults 18-49, 29.94 million viewers overall) and a 90-minute episode on Wednesday (10.1/27, 26.39m). That put its opening week down about 5% vs. last year, but the show opened up an even bigger edge on its rivals both nights.

Also for the net, “House” returned a bit below average on Monday (4.6/12 in 18-49, 12.25m), but “Bones” was back with a Thursday high (3.3/10, 10.75m), leading into some regular-slot bests for “Fringe” (2.6/7, 6.60m).

And on Sunday, the season premiere of “24” on a special night (3.9/10 in 18-49, 11.44m) was down year-to-year but solid nonetheless, preceded by a special preview of new Wednesday drama “Human Target” (2.9/7, 10.12m).

NBC had only one of the week’s top 20 programs in adults 18-49 — the Golden Globe Awards (5.5/14 in 18-49, 16.98m), which was up 12% year-to-year in 18-49 and by 19% in males 12-34 (perhaps owing to Ricky Gervais and popular pics like “Avatar” and “The Hangover”). It also tied with the “American Music Awards” on ABC in November as the season’s top-rated awards show in the demo — at least before the Grammys and Oscars weigh in.

Other highlights included a solid regular-slot bow for “Chuck” on Monday (2.6/7 in 18-49, 7.35m) and the best 8 p.m. delivery to date for rookie Thursday laffer “Community” (2.4/7, 5.42m). On the other hand, “Mercy” (1.5/4, 5.85m) took it on the chin opposite “Idol” on Wednesday.

ABC was led by “Grey’s Anatomy” (4.8/13 in 18-49, 12.78m), although it was below average coming off a seven-week hiatus. Skedmate “Private Practice” looked good behind it (4.2/12, 10.96m), thanks in part to the latest crossover storyline involving the medical shows.

Also of note, “Castle” (2.6/7, 9.47m) hit a season highs in some categories on Monday, and the net is also picking up a little momentum of Friday with “Supernanny” (1.6/5 in 18-49, 5.31m) and “Shark Tank” (1.6/5, 4.43m).

MyNetworkTV, which morphed from a broadcast network to a programming service last summer, recorded its most-watched week to date for the Jan. 4-10 frame, averaging 2.9 million viewers — which by comparison is more than double what broadcaster CW drew. Net is being powered as usual by “Friday Night Smackdown” but also by encores of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” which averaged 3.3 million viewers.

USA remained atop the cable pack last week in all key categories, led by “WWE Raw” (2.1/5 in 18-49, 5.44m for its two hours).

Fox News Channel was close behind in total primetime viewers (2.4 million to 2.6 million for USA), ruling the news networks in a week dominated late by the earthquake in Haiti. FNC drew a larger aud than CNN (1.1 million) and MSNBC (700,000 million) combined.

Among entertainment series, MTV’s “Jersey Shore” (1.7/5 in 18-49, 3.41m) hit series records Thursday, beating in demos both NBC’s “The Jay Leno Show” (1.3/4 in 18-49, 4.40m) and Lifetime’s season preem of “Project Runway” (1.3/4, 2.94m).

Also, ABC Family drew a sizable aud for its Sunday movie premiere of “Bring It On: Fight to the Finish” (3.72 million), and TNT’s “Leverage” had a solid return on Wednesday (3.69 million viewers overall, including 1.77m adults 25-54).

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