'Sunday Night Football' tops final week of year

Football and New Year’s Eve festivities highlighted the ratings race for the final week of the year, which saw only two original series telecasts on the Big Four.

NBC moved to the lead in key demos on the strength of the finale of “Sunday Night Football,” which drew the largest audience for any primetime regular-season NFL game in 15 years. ESPN moved up to second among young adults with its final “Monday Night Football” game of the season and a string of college football bowl games throughout the week.

Excluding sports, the biggest thing happening last week was ABC’s New Year’s Eve coverage, which bagged big numbers with its annual “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest” (4.1/15 in adults 18-49, 12.92 million viewers overall) and an earlier, two-hour special commemorating the event’s 40-year history on the net (2.5/9, 8.36m).

ABC dominated coverage that night (Daily Variety, Jan. 2), with the segment that included the midnight dropping of the ball in Times Square attracting nearly 23 million viewers.

Overall for the lightly watched Dec. 25-31 frame, NBC prevailed in adults 18-49 with a 2.0 rating/6 share, followed by ESPN and CBS (both at 1.7/5), Univision (1.4/4), ABC (1.3/4) and Fox (1.0/3). The Peacock also won in adults 25-54 (2.5/6 to 2.3/6 for CBS), while the Eye drew the most overall viewers (8.2 million to 6.3 million for runner-up NBC).

At NBC, the de facto playoff game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys on “Sunday Night Football” averaged a boffo 9.8 rating/24 share in adults 18-49 and 27.62 million viewers overall. It edges out the NFL Thursday opener of last season (27.5 million for Vikings-Saints) to become the biggest regular-season primetime telecast since a matchup between the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers drew 35.1 million on ABC in November 1996.

Oddly, it was merely the fourth best 18-49 score for an NFL game on NBC this season — behind its first three games of the season in September.

When the Giants and Cowboys met three weeks earlier on NBC, the game did a similar 9.4 demo rating and 24.52 million viewers overall. This time around — with no work or school the next day for most — about 1 million more kids 2-11 and 2 million more adults 50-plus tuned in.

ESPN’s big week started with the “Monday Night Football” matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints (5.6/16 in 18-49, 15.64m) and also included college football bowl games on the next five nights. Best numbers came for Thursday’s Alamo Bowl (2.1/7, 6.92m for Baylor-Washington) and Saturday’s Chick-Fil-A Bowl (1.7/5, 6.16m for Virginia-Auburn).

There weren’t many series highlights for the week, with NBC’s Monday gameshow “Who’s Still Standing?” (1.5/4, 6.16m) and Friday drama “Chuck” (0.8/3, 3.07m) the only originals airing.

CBS skedded its annual “Kennedy Center Honors” telecast for Tuesday behind a repeat “NCIS” (2.1/6, 12.58m), but it settled for a 1.1/3 in 18-49 and 8.4 million total viewers — down sharply in the demo from last year’s 1.5/4.

Cable saw some original programming early in the week, including episodes of TNT’s Monday dramas “The Closer” (1.1/3, 6.16m) and “Rizzoli and Isles” (1.1/3, 5.79m) and hot reality shows “Pawn Stars” on History (1.9/5, 5.23m) and “Teen Mom II” on MTV (1.9/5, 3.42m).

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