The finale’s torch didn’t shine nearly as brightly this time around, but “Survivor” went out with a bang on Thursday, lifting CBS to a decisive victory and giving the net a seemingly insurmountable May sweeps lead in total viewers.
According to Nielsen, the two-hour conclusion of “Survivor: The Australian Outback” (36.35 million viewers, 15.9/39 in adults 18-49) combined with strong numbers for a one-hour reunion show (28.01m, 13.2/31) to give CBS more than double the nightly audience of NBC (33.8m vs. 16.8m) and an 82% advantage in adults 18-49 (15.1/36 vs. 8.3/20).
In both overall audience and the key demo, it’s the third biggest night of the season for any net — behind the Super Bowl on CBS in January and the Academy Awards on ABC in March.
Compared with the finale of the original “Survivor” last August, the second edition was off by 30% in both total viewers and adults 18-49. Drop is steeper than most insiders had predicted, but it makes sense given the lack of action and drama in this year’s finale and the stepped-up sweeps competition it faced.
Last summer, when the other nets could do nothing but watch opposite the “Survivor” steamroller, the finale gained 23 million more viewers than the penultimate episode (51.69m vs. 28.67m). This time around, it gained less than 10 million (36.35m vs. 26.89m)
Still, CBS points out that even if you throw out “Survivor II’s” post-Super Bowl premiere, the second edition posted better overall averages by virtually every measure. And in cumulative audience prior to Thursday’s finale, Nielsen reports than 131.4 million viewers watched all or part of the second edition — up 5% from the first edition (124.8 million).
The Eye net’s staggering 655% improvement year-to-year in adults 18-49 on the second Thursday of sweeps (15.1 vs. 2.0) coincided with drops of 19% at both NBC (8.3 vs. 10.2) and UPN (2.5 vs. 3.1) and 72% at ABC (2.1 vs. 7.8). Fox, with a repeat of “Die Hard With a Vengeance,” was up 5% (2.2 vs. 1.1), while the WB, buoyed by nice gains in the opening hour with “Gilmore Girls,” was up 14% (1.6 vs. 1.4).
NBC’s comedy block and drama “ER” were both down 19% in 18-49 vs. the same night a year ago, with the medical drama also dipping to its smallest average audience ever for a firstrun episode (21.85m). The “Survivor: Back From the Outback” reunion show, featuring all 16 players of the second edition, became the first program to outdraw an original “ER” in total viewers.
CBS’ primetime success also translated into a rare victory in latenight for “The Late Show With David Letterman” (prelim 7.8 million viewers, 3.7 rating in A18-49) over “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” (prelim 6.0m, 2.7 in A18-49). It’s Letterman’s best showing since the night of the first “Survivor’s” finale last August.
Comfy demo lead
Consolation for NBC is that it withstood the biggest bullet any net had in its arsenal this month and emerged from the weekend a surprisingly comfortable primetime leader in adults 18-49 for sweeps. Through Saturday, NBC is the estimated leader in adults 18-49 with a 5.0 rating/14 share, 11% ahead of second-place CBS (4.5/13), 32% ahead of Fox (3.8/11) and 43% ahead of ABC (3.5/10).
In total viewers, CBS leads with roughly 13.9 million viewers, followed by NBC (11.9m), ABC (10.1m) and Fox (8.3m).
NBC rolled on Friday, topping second place ABC by nearly 2 million viewers and by 27% in adults 18-49 (prelim 3.8/13 vs. 3.0/10). Net won each half-hour in adults 18-49, although once again only “Law & Order: SVU” was up vs. a year ago (to a prelim 13.9m, 5.1/16 in A18-49).
CBS was down by 31% year-to-year in adults 18-49 courtesy of a “Diagnosis Murder” movie (2.0 vs. 2.9) but was up slightly in total viewers. ABC (down 17%) and NBC (down 5%) were also off their pace of a year ago in 18-49, leaving only Fox (up 13%) as the lone gainer among the major nets.
ABC reversed its sweep run of year-to-year losses on Saturday with a strong performance by a quickie repeat of “Armageddon.” Pic, which aired for the first time on the net just five days earlier, won the night in adults 18-49 (prelim 3.5/12) and adults 18-34 (prelim 3.1/11) — boosting the net vs. the same night a year ago by 13% and 48%, respectively.
Fox’s run of year-to-year sweeps growth ended at six nights on Saturday, as its reality staples averaged a prelim 3.1/11 in adults 18-49 — good enough for second place but down a tick from a year ago (3.2/11) when it won the night.
NBC enjoyed its strongest Saturday since the premiere of the XFL in early February, as an NBA basketball overrun and a repeat of “Happy Gilmore” left it a competitive third in 18-49 (a prelim 2.9/10 that could come up slightly in nationals).
CBS took the night in total viewers (prelim 10.3m) and tied for second in adults 25-54 (prelim 3.3/10) but fell back to fourth in adults 18-49 (2.4/8).