CBS rolls early with end of huge NFL playoff game

On a night when CBS crushed the competition with the final 75 minutes of the top-rated opening-round NFL playoff game in 24 years, ABC saw a good return for ”Once Upon a Time” but NBC’s ”The Firm” posted meager numbers with its special preview.

According to preliminary national estimates from Nielsen, NBC’s ”The Firm” averaged a 1.4 rating/3 share in adults 18-49 and 6.3 million viewers overall from 9 to 11 p.m., about in line with its lead-in from ”Dateline” (1.2/3 in 18-49, 6.2 million viewers overall), with the newsmagazine doing a 1.7 demo rating in the 8:30 p.m. half-hour. The 1.4 is a big dropoff from the 2.6 that ”The Cape” did with its special Sunday preview on the comparable night a year ago for NBC. The Josh Lucas starrer ”The Firm,” which edged downward from beginning to end, will debut in its regular 10 p.m. Thursday slot this week.

Elsewhere, the early part of the evening was all about football as the NFL wild-card playoff game between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers on CBS averaged a huge 25.9 household rating/43 share in Nielsen’s metered-market overnights from 4:30 to 8:15 p.m. ET , the highest-rated opening-round contest of the NFL playoffs since 1988 (26.7 for Seattle-Houston on NBC). The game, which was decided on the first play of overtime when the Broncos’ Tim Tebow threw an 80-yard touchdown pass, likely drew about 45 million viewers for its 75-minute primetime segment.

Ratings for the rest of the night on CBS are approximate and subject to change as the net’s Sunday series started about 17 minutes late in much of the country. From 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., ”60 Minutes” averaged roughly a 4.0/9 in 18-49 and 17.7 million viewers overall), followed by ”The Good Wife” (2.7/7 in 18-49, 11.2 million viewers overall) and ”CSI: Miami” (2.5/6 in 18-49, 10.1 million viewers overall in the 10:30 p.m. half-hour). CBS dominated the night in all categories.

ABC started with ”America’s Funniest Home Videos” (1.4/3 in 18-49, 5.8 million viewers overall), which was on the low end due to the big football overrun, and then picked up nicely at 8 p.m. with ”Once Upon a Time” (3.7/8 in 18-49, 10.3 million viewers overall), which shot up by more than 25% vs. its most recent original on Dec. 11 and provided the net with better than 30% time-period demo improvement over last year’s ”Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” on the comparable night. ”Desperate Housewives” was also up some in its return (3.0/7 in 18-49, 8.8 million viewers overall), but it was slow going for ”Pan Am” (1.3/3 in 18-49, 4.0 million viewers overall), which is playing out its final episodes before new drama ”GCB” takes its place in early March.

Fox’s male-skewing comedy lineup was certainly affected by the late-running football on CBS, with ”The Simpsons” settling for a 2.3/5 in 18-49 and 5.1 million viewers overall. It was followed by ”The Cleveland Show” (2.1/5 in 18-49, 4.4 million viewers overall), ”Family Guy” (3.0/7 in 18-49, 6.0 million viewers overall) and ”American Dad” (2.1/5 in 18-49, 4.6 million viewers overall).

Preliminary 18-49 averages for the night: CBS, 7.1/17; ABC, 2.3/6; Fox, 1.9/4; NBC, 1.3/3; Univision, 1.1/3.

In total viewers: CBS, 22.6 million; ABC, 7.2 million; NBC, 6.3 million; Fox, 4.0 million; Univision, 3.1 million.

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