Fox takes pole position in ratings

Daytona 500, 'American Idol' help network race ahead

Fox went off script last week with “American Idol” and the Daytona 500 to dominate the primetime ratings race.

Though still a sizable demo — “Idol’s” three editions ranked among the week’s top four shows in adults 18-49 — television’s biggest hit of the past decade continues to sag in year-to-year comparisons, especially among adults under 35.

Also of note last week, the nets started rolling out their final batch of new midseason shows, with both NBC’s Thursday drama “Awake” and ABC’s hourlong Sunday comedy “GCB” falling in the OK/could-have-been-worse category.

CBS, meanwhile, didn’t have any of the week’s top five programs in adults 18-49 but ended up with 12 of the top 25 — more than ABC (five), Fox (five) and NBC (one) combined.

Overall, according to national estimates from Nielsen for the Feb. 20-26 frame, Fox cruised in adults18-49 with a 3.4 rating/9 share, followed by CBS (2.2/6), ABC and NBC (both 1.9/5), Univision (1.5/4) and top cabler TBS (1.0/3).

Net also dominated in adults 25-54 (4.3/10 to 3.1/8 for CBS) and even edged out CBS in total viewers (10.5 million to 10.2 million).

For Fox, “American Idol” aired six hours across three nights, including its best Thursday numbers of the season (5.4/15 in 18-49, 18.45 million viewers overall); that telecast tied NBC’s own singing competish, “The Voice,” as the week’s top draw in the 18-49 demo. A special Tuesday “Idol” (5.1/13, 16.11m) and Wednesday’s regular seg (5.0/13, 17.23m) weren’t far behind.

“Idol” saw its median age climb above 50 for two of its three shows last week. And Thursday’s two-hour seg revealing the show’s 13 finalists was off 34% in adults 18-49 (5.4 vs. 8.2) vs. the comparable night a year ago, and by an even larger 41% in adults 18-34 (3.6 vs. 6.1).

Fox was boosted by the rain-delayed Daytona 500 NASCAR race Monday (4.5/13 in 18-49, 13.67m), which edged out NBC for the night. But not working for the net, at least in its first week, was limited-run Saturday series “Q’Viva: The Chosen” (0.8/2, 2.20m), a Jennifer Lopez-fronted search for Latin American music talent.

Elsewhere, CBS wrapped the February sweep that ended Wednesday with a surprise second-place finish ahead of Fox in adults 18-49 (NBC easily won thanks to the Super Bowl). Fox has dominated this month during the “American Idol” era, but the Eye’s consistency won out this time.

The net’s Monday comedy block was hit by special competish from the Daytona 500, but “2 Broke Girls” (3.8/10, 10.18m), “How I Met Your Mother” (3.6/10, 9.07m) and “Two and a Half Men” (3.6/9, 11.92m) all landed in the week’s top 10. Also among the top shows was Tuesday vet “NCIS” (3.5/9, 18.20m), which tied with AMC’s “Walking Dead” as the week’s No. 1 drama in 18-49 while also standing as the most-watched scripted program overall.

“The Big Bang Theory” did well in repeat Thursday (3.2/10, 11.11m), leading into the season finale of rookie half-hour “Rob” (2.6/7, 8.93m), which is a contender to return in the fall after a fairly solid eight-week run. Also wrapping its first season, but perhaps not looking as likely to return, is Friday drama “A Gifted Man” (1.5/4, 9.70m), which finished on a strong note following “Undercover Boss” (2.0/7, 9.53m).

At ABC, “Modern Family” may have ranked fifth for the week in adults 18-49 (4.8/12), but it could vault to No. 1 when full-week DVR playback is included. The comedy, especially now that it’s up against “American Idol,” has exploded in DVR playback, posting record-setting gains of 2.7 ratings points last month.

The net’s Friday continues to click with “Shark Tank” (1.6/5, 5.69m) and “Primetime: What Would You Do?” (1.5/5, 5.16m), performing nearly as well as its Tuesday, where “Last Man Standing” (2.2/6, 7.50m) may be the night’s only show still standing come next season.

The week wrapped with a modest preem for Southern-fried hourlong comedy “GCB” (2.2/6, 7.56m), though it did retain nearly 90% of it “Desperate Housewives” lead-in (2.5/6, 8.21m) and pretty much retained its audience throughout.

NBC didn’t have much going beyond “The Voice,” though lead-out “Smash” stabilized (2.3/6, 6.64m) and then grew nicely on Monday of the current week (2.7/7, 7.76m), taking advantage of repeats on ABC and CBS.

Drama “Awake” bowed with decent numbers Thursday (2.0/5, 6.25m), growing from its soft “Up All Night” lead-in and beating out the repeats on ABC and CBS in 18-49.

“Parenthood” wrapped its season on an uptick (1.9/5, 5.16m), and Sunday’s “Celebrity Apprentice” (2.3/6, 6.67m) moved to the 18-49 lead with its final half-hour.

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