‘Survivor’ finds young aud

Eye's gambit could be youth magnet

Who wants to be a young-adult magnet this summer?

If Wednesday’s first-week Nielsens are any indication, CBS’ reality adventure series “Survivor” has all the makings of an out-of-the-gate summer ratings smash — much like ABC quizzer “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which made its first splash in August.

Wednesday’s opening installment of “Survivor” easily won its hour in young adults, topping a strategically added special edition of “Millionaire.” In some key demos, it delivered the net’s top series scores in the Wednesday lead-off hour in more than seven years.

An upbeat CBS Television CEO Leslie Moonves was careful while assessing the ratings results, contending that he didn’t want to declare victory after just one week.

“Clearly, this is one day, one episode of one show,” he said. Still, the “Survivor” numbers were “as good as we could have possibly expected. It was a real coming together of a number of elements of the company.”

Merger test

In many ways, “Survivor” served as a successful first test of the new age of corporate synergy within the newly merged Viacom/CBS behemoth.

Spots for “Survivor” frequently showed up on younger-friendly Viacom outlets such as MTV and VH1. Viacom prexy and chief operating officer Mel Karmazin gave some credit to the marketing power of the company, noting that in the space of a half-hour he heard promo spots for “Survivor” on three separate Infinity radio stations.

“I knew we had a hit on our hands when I saw they were taking bets (in a Las Vegas casino) on who was going to be the last survivor,” Karmazin quipped in a speech to Eye affils gathered in Las Vegas for their annual confab.

According to Nielsen, “Survivor” bowed before 15.51 million viewers, placing second to “Millionaire” (16.83 million), which slipped to its lowest aud since August. By comparison, in the recent May sweeps CBS averaged just 7.5 million viewers in the hour with four specs while “Millionaire” averaged 26.1 million.

In homes, “Survivor’s” 10.3/18 is nearly double what CBS averaged last summer in the time period (5.4/10).

Skewing younger

But the real story was the show’s strong appeal among key demo groups that have proved especially elusive for CBS, and even more so in the Wednesday at 8 hour.

In adults 18-49, “Survivor” averaged a 6.1 rating and 20 share, topping “Millionaire” (5.0) by 22%. It’s the Eye’s best number in the slot (excepting the Grammys) since “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in December and its best rating for series programming in the slot since March 17, 1993 (“How’d They Do That?”).

And in adults 18-34, “Survivor” (6.7/23) did even better, defeating “Millionaire” (4.3/14) by 56%. It’s the net’s best perf in the slot with series programming since Jan. 1, 1992 (“Davis Rules” and “Brooklyn Bridge”).

ABC points out that “Millionaire’s” share in the 18-34 demo was on par with its May perfs and that CBS’ gains came at the expense of Fox and the WB, both of which aired repeats and were down considerably from sweeps.

As for the gender split, “Survivor” drew nearly equal male and female auds. In adults 18-49, for example, it delivered a 20 share among both men and women.

“Millionaire” pulled closer in adults 25-54 (5.9 vs. 6.2), with the quizzer winning in women 25-54 (6.9 to 6.7).

Attracting the extremes

“Millionaire” fared better among the youngest and oldest of viewers, topping “Survivor” in viewers 50-plus (11.9 to 9.0) and in kids 2-11 (2.7 to 2.2). CBS notes that “Survivor’s” median age of 44 was more than eight years younger than “Millionaire” on Wednesday (52.2), making it the youngest show on the Eye net’s sked.

“We thought it would do well, but didn’t think it would do as well as it did,” said TN Media senior veep of broadcast research Steve Sternberg. “The idea that viewers won’t watch something in summer is nonsense to begin with.”

“Survivor,” which strands 16 contestants on a remote island and rewards the ultimate survivor $1 million, bested “Millionaire” in 25 of the 48 markets metered by Nielsen. The quizzer, which was a late add to Wednesday’s sked, was stronger in the top 10 markets, though, winning by easy margins in cities like Boston and Dallas.

There figures to be potential for ratings growth for “Survivor,” especially given that rival nets will primarily air reruns during its 13-week run. CBS is also hopeful that strong word-of-mouth and watercooler buzz will send the ratings even higher as the competition grows more fierce.

Still, the “Millionaire” threat isn’t over just yet. The quiz show may do battle against “Survivor” again next Wednesday should ABC’s coverage of the Stanley Cup expand to a fifth game on Thursday. If that occurs, Alphabet execs said they’d most likely air Thursday’s “Millionaire” seg on Wednesday at 8.

CBS, meanwhile, has skedded a rebroadcast of the first episode of “Survivor” for Saturday at 10.

CBS execs said they have already scouted other island locations and that the series could emerge as a midseason show as early as January. Another summer reality series, “Big Brother,” debuts on CBS in July.

Despite some tension between ABC and CBS over the Alphabet’s last-minute move to sked “Millionaire” opposite the “Survivor” bow, Moonves said he received a phone call from ABC Entertainment Television Group co-chairs Stu Bloomberg and Lloyd Braun congratulating the Eye on “Survivor’s” early success.

“It was a classy move,” Moonves said.

Also, a web spokesman said “Millionaire” exec producer Michael Davies logged a call to “Survivor” exec producer Mark Burnett and gave a shout-out over “Survivor’s” big numbers.

Menial response

The news wasn’t as good Wednesday for ABC’s debut of the animated series “Clerks.” Touchstone/Miramax skein, based on the 1994 Miramax pic, drew 7.39 million viewers and a 3.6/11 in adults 18-49. While it won its half-hour in teens (2.9/11) and placed second in most key demos, it dropped huge chunks of its repeat “Drew Carey” lead-in: 44% among viewers (7.4 million from 13.2) and 41% in adults 18-49 (3.5 from 5.9).

NBC’s basketball coverage dominated the rest of the night. The NBA playoff game between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks averaged 11.14 million viewers and an adults 18-49 rating of 5.1/15.

ABC won the night in viewers (12.1 million) and tied CBS in adults 18-49 (4.4/13), with NBC (4.3/13) right behind.

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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