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Lowbrow fare takes NBC high

Peacock wins reality race

HOLLYWOOD — One year after putting out the “gone fishin’ ” sign, NBC is the clear winner of this summer’s reality sweepstakes. Sure, the net has thrown a lot of the stuff against the wall, but most of it has stuck.

Led by “Fear Factor,” a gross-out series that has topped the ratings charts with new highs each of the last three weeks, and put-down quizzer “Weakest Link,” which follows “Fear” on its Monday sked, the Peacock net is on a demo roll this summer. It’s won every week since May in the key adults 18-49 demo, according to Nielsen, and it usually hasn’t been close.

Even more significantly, NBC has been ruling primetime among the youngest of adults — 18 to 34 — a segment of the 18-49 group that had become increasingly difficult for the Peacock to attract. After winning only five weeks during the regular season (October-May) in adults 18-34, the net has won every week this summer.

This is a far cry from one year ago, when CBS and ABC ruled the summer months with “Survivor” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” respectively, and NBC primarily stuck with repeats of its scripted series. NBC also sat back and watched last winter as Fox unveiled young-adult magnet “Temptation Island” and ABC boosted its demo portfolio with “The Mole.”

Critics may hate NBC’s lowbrow “Fear Factor” and meanspirited “Spy TV,” but these shows are grabbing the 18-34 crowd — and that’s just what NBC was looking for when it dove headfirst into the unscripted/reality waters this summer.

NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker, put in a position of having to defend his programming strategy to critics, said: “If we don’t try these shows, where will we be in five or 10 years if nobody under 35 has been watching our network?”

While no series this summer has come close to achieving the ratings success of CBS’ wildfire hit “Survivor,” each net can point to at least some success with alternative programming. And given the wretched rate at which most dramas and sitcoms are performing in repeats this summer, even the most modest-performing unscripted or alternative series is a step up.

“Fear Factor” has easily been the most impressive of the bunch, with its original episodes on Monday averaging a 5.5 rating/18 share in adults 18-49 and 11.8 million viewers overall. And it keeps getting hotter, with its most recent episode — a July 23 seg in which contestants were forced to eat sheep’s eyes — attracting 14.1 million viewers, a 6.8/21 in adults 18-49 and a boffo 26 share in adults 18-34.

“Fear,” which is not on the NBC fall sked but has been ordered as a midseason replacement series, could be a key utility player for the net.

Also performing well for NBC is quizzer “Weakest Link,” whose original segs are averaging 12.6 million viewers and a 5.4/15 in adults 18-49.

The hidden-camera skein “Spy TV” started off very strong for NBC but has cooled a bit since. Still, its Thursday originals are averaging 9.4 million viewers and a 4.8/16 in adults 18-49. Same can’t be said for the net’s “Downer Channel,” which stumbled in its premiere last week.

CBS’ “Big Brother 2” is not a dominant performer but is nevertheless providing demo jolts for the Eye net. It’s averaging 7.3 million viewers and a 3.0 rating/11 share in adults 18-49, with its averages held down because one of its three weekly episodes airs on little-watched Saturday night.

ABC and Fox have only aired a few hours of alternative programming between them. The former’s comedy/gameshow “You Don’t Know Jack” (5.9 million, 2.6/9 in A18-49) faded after a solid start, and the latter’s “Murder in Smalltown X” got off to a decent start July 24 (7.2 million, 3.5/10).

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