NFL openers top 25 million; MTV also has a good week

America is clearly ready for some football.

Boosted by appearances by some of the NFL’s most popular players and teams, NBC’s opening NFL games on Thursday and Sunday both topped 25 million viewers for the league’s best-ever primetime start on the Peacock. And college football also scored well, including ESPN’s most-watched regular season game on record.

Also making noise as auds returned to the tube in the post-Labor Day frame was MTV’s “Video Music Awards,” which hit an eight-year high. And HBO’s “True Blood” — despite facing both the NFL and VMAs on Sunday — ended its season with gains vs. last year.

And three nights later, the season opener of “Sunday Night Football” between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins (in Donovan McNabb’s debut with his new team) drew the franchise’s best Sunday numbers since debuting on NBC in September 2006 (9.6/24 in 18-49, 25.26m); the only regular-season game to fare better in that time was Thursday’s special game.

On the broadcast side, CW breathed a sigh of relief as auds sampled its two new shows, “Hellcats” and “Nikita,” following a summer that saw the net fall off the radar with viewers.

Overall, NBC rolled to victory for the Sept. 6-12 frame, racking up the best scores for any network since early spring. In adults 18-49, according to Nielsen, the Peacock’s 3.8 rating/11 share towered over runner-up Fox (2.2/6), which was followed by Univision (1.6/5), ABC, CBS and ESPN (all at 1.4/4) and MTV (1.3/4).

In total viewers, NBC’s average weekly audience of 11.4 million nearly matched the combined deliveries of the nets closest nets behind it — CBS (6.1 million) and Fox (5.8 million).

For NBC, Thursday’s NFL Kickoff game pitting Brett Favre’s Minnesota Vikings against the defending champion New Orleans Saints averaged a monster 10.7 rating/30 share in adults 18-49 and 27.48 million viewers overall. This was the largest aud for any regular-season primetime NFL telecast on any network in nearly 14 years and gave NBC its biggest Thursday tune-in (excluding the Olympics) since the 1994 “Friends” finale.

College football, meanwhile, dominated on Labor Day as the top-10 matchup of Boise State and Virginia Tech (3.9/13, 9.89m) became ESPN’s most-watched regular-season game to date. On Saturday, ESPN’s primetime game between Alabama and Penn State dominated the night (2.6/9, 7.12m), and earlier in the day NBC reported that its Notre Dame-Michigan game (7 million) was the most-watched Fighting Irish contest since 2005.

Elsewhere last week, the VMA Awards on MTV surged to their best averages since 2002 (5.6/14 in 18-49, 11.40m), including an 8.5/23 in persons 12-34. The cabler also scored with “Jersey Shore” both on its regular night of Thursday (3.3/9 in 18-49, 6.38m) and Sunday before the VMA Awards (2.9/9, 5.71m) and with Tuesday’s finale of “Teen Mom” (2.3/6, 3.95m).

Also in cable, History had a big Monday as “American Pickers” set a series record (1.8/5, 5.70m) and “Pawn Stars” (2.4/7, 5.93m for the second of its two half-hours) was the No. 1 series in key demos during the 10 o’clock hour.

FX saw a strong start for the third season bow of “Sons of Anarchy” on Tuesday (2.1/5, 4.13m), but it was an uphill climb on Wednesday for the preem of quirky drama “Terriers” (0.5/1, 1.61m).

HBO’s “True Blood” wrapped its third season with good numbers (3.0/8 in 18-49, 5.38m), just below the previous week’s series high and about 5% ahead of last year’s finale. On the same night, the pay cabler’s finales of “Hung” and “Entourage” drew 2.3 million and 2.7 million, respectively.

A&E’s “Hoarders” (1.6/5 in 18-49, 3.85m) kicked off its third season with series highs; TNT’s “The Closer” and “Rizzoli and Isles” both topped 7 million viewers overall; and Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” drew a sizable 5.91 million viewers on Saturday for an episode guest starring Jane Lynch.

The top broadcast series scores came from reality shows “America’s Got Talent” on NBC (3.3/9 in 18-49, 12.35m), “Wipeout” on ABC (2.8/9, 8.16m) and “Big Brother” (2.7/9, 7.81m for Wednesday’s seg). And one week from its finale, Fox’s “Masterchef” was on the upswing (2.5/7, 5.77m) and continues to rate as summer’s top new show in 18-49.

At CW, “Hellcats” (1.2/4 in 18-49, 3.02m) had a solid bow on Wednesday behind the season premiere of “America’s Next Top Model” (1.3/4, 2.84m), building a bit on the declining reality vet in both persons 12-34 rating (1.6 vs. 1.3) and total viewers; it also saw growth in its second half-hour.

The net didn’t fare quite as well relative to lead-in Thursday with the premiere of “Nikita” (1.4/4, 3.57m), which was up against the mammoth NFL season opener and followed the second-season preem of “The Vampire Diaries” (1.6/5, 3.36m); in adults 18-34, “Nikita” dropped off from “Vampire” (1.3 vs. 1.9) but did hold steady on the half-hour.

Friday’s hourlong “Stand Up to Cancer” telethon averaged a combined 11.3 million viewers on the Big Four broadcasters and 11 cable networks. This was a nice 66% gain vs. the 2008 special.

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