Games still big, while 'Bachelor' remains solid

The Winter Olympics continued to dominate primetime on Monday, but ABC’s “The Bachelor” still came out smelling like a rose.

The 14th edition of the long-running dating series is delivering its best numbers in six years and, perhaps most impressively, has emerged as the season’s most upscale reality show.

Looking at the numbers, Monday’s two-hour seg of “The Bachelor: On the Wings of Love” (prelim 4.0/10 in adults 18-49, 11.5 million viewers overall) was projected to match its demo delivery of the previous week despite facing the Olympics on NBC. In its final half-hour, it pulled to within 6 shares of the Vancouver Games in adults 18-49, 4 shares in adults 18-34, and moved ahead of the Olympics action in women 18-34 rating (6.0/14 to 5.7/14).

Show, from Mike Fleiss’ Next Entertainment and Warner Horizon Television, continues to pace ahead by roughly 5% over last year’s edition, which itself spiked sharply over the 2008 season. Its 18-49 average (4.0) is the best at this point of a season since the spring of 2004 (eight seasons ago), and its overall audience (11.3 million) reps its best since the fall of 2003 (nine seasons ago).

Some controversy centered around a contestant’s affair with a “Bachelor” producer spiked ratings early on, but the show has only picked up steam since: Prior to last week, “The Bachelor” had built in rating for five consecutive weeks.

In general, viewers seem to be taking to a shift in recent years to highlight spurned contestants from previous seasons as the lead, thus creating something of a built-in spinoff audience. Current “Bachelor” Jake Pavelka, for example, was one of the final eliminated players on last year’s “The Bachelorette.”

Pavelka, a 31-year-old commercial pilot from Dallas, appears to be feeding into the “Top Gun” fantasies of wealthy women across the country. How else to explain why the show skews so upscale in Nielsen’s economic breakdowns?

This season, “The Bachelor” places among the top 10 series among adults 18-49 in homes with $100,000-plus annual income, with its 6.4 rating repping a 28% surge over last year’s 5.0. And based on index (or concentration of high income viewers in its audience), “The Bachelor” stands as the No. 1 unscripted series on the broadcast networks.

And among all series on the Big Four this season, “The Bachelor” skews more upscale than the likes of “Lost,” “The Office,” “30 Rock” or “Grey’s Anatomy.” In fact, the only primetime series to index higher is Fox newcomer “Glee.”

The “Bachelor” finale is set for March 1, but that doesn’t mean the franchise is taking a rest. ABC will follow that up a week later with the two-hour wedding of Jason Mesnick and Molly Malaney, the first couple from “The Bachelor” to walk down the aisle, and on March 15 with a two-hour special edition of “20/20″ called “Inside the Bachelor” that promises to take viewers deeper inside the series.

And then, of course, the next season of “The Bachelorette” will debut in May.

As for the Olympics, Monday’s primetime segment averaged a preliminary 7.2 rating/18 share in adults 18-49 and 25.5 million viewers overall, in line with its Sunday performance. NBC more than doubled its closest pursuer in the 18-49 demo (ABC) while drawing roughly the same overall aud as ABC, CBS and Fox combined.

Through four nights, the 2010 Vancouver Games are averaging 27.9 million viewers on NBC in primetime, up vs. Torino in 2006 (22.4 million) and Calgary in 1998 (roughly 25.5 million) but lagging behind Salt Lake City in 2002 (roughly 34.1 million) and Lillehammer in 1994 (roughly 37.4 million).

According to Nielsen, 129 million Americans have watched at least six minutes of the Vancouver Games on the networks of NBCU — ahead of the 125 million at this point in 2006.

One advantage that ABC’s “The Bachelor” had on Monday was that, while it faced considerably stronger competish than in recent weeks on NBC, it was faced repeats of the night’s top shows: CBS comedies “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory” and Fox’s “House.”

The only scripted series that dared to compete against the Olympics with original episodes all hit season lows: Fox’s “24” (prelim 2.7/6 in 18-49, 8.5 million) and CW’s “One Tree Hill” (prelim 0.9/2, 1.9 million) and “Life Unexpected” (0.9/2, 1.8 million).

Due to the Monday holiday, the weekly ratings story and charts that typically run in Wednesday’s edition will instead appear on Thursday.

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