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Fox, CBS play grid aces, NBC a trump

TV ratings race tight

Powerful postseason professional pigskin perfs on two nets and the hottest-starting reality series in a year on another made for an extremely tight ratings race in the first full week of January, with Fox, CBS and NBC all claiming victory in key categories.

That left ABC, one week after its own big football-boosted frame and one week before the return of top show “The Bachelorette,” deep in fourth place.

According to in-home viewing estimates from Nielsen, Fox’s average of a 4.9 rating/13 share edged out CBS and NBC (each at a 4.8 rating) for the adults 18-49 lead during the Jan. 5-11 frame. ABC registered a 3.1/8.

This is Fox’s best average in 11 weeks (since the World Series), CBS’ best in nine weeks (since the “CMA Awards”), and NBC’s strongest delivery in the 15 frames since premiere week.

Category winners

It was such a close three-way battle in the industry’s broadest and most significant demo that there were different winners in tangential categories — depending on age and gender.

CBS pulled ahead in adults 25-54 (6.0/14) and cruised as usual in total viewers (15.6 million), while Fox swept the key male demos and NBC took each of the primary female demos.

The conference-semifinal round of the NFL playoffs played a huge part in the weekly averages of both Fox and CBS, as the Eye crushed the competish with a primetime game on Saturday (10.2/29 in adults 18-49, 25.91 million viewers overall for Patriots-Titans) and Fox was the beneficiary of huge overruns on both Saturday (13.0/39 in 18-49 for 28 minutes of Panthers-Rams) and Sunday (18.0/46 in 18-49 for 75 minutes of Eagles-Packers).

Without the powerful ratings that football brings at this time of year, CBS would have placed a distant second to NBC in 18-49 (4.2 vs. 4.8) and Fox would have been struggling to edge out ABC for third (3.2 vs. 3.1).

There were a lot of highlights among entertainment programs for the week as well, with NBC’s powerful Thursday trio of “Friends,” “ER” and a special preview of reality skein “The Apprentice” joining CBS drama “CSI” in the week’s top five in 18-49.

Nets dominate

Overall, despite year-to-year declines, the broadcast nets dominated the frame, commanding 53% of the 18-49 audience. The top cable show of the week in adults 18-49, MTV’s “The Real World,” tied for No. 76 in the rankings (2.2/6).

At Fox, non-football highlights included best-yet 18-49 ratings for first-year shows “The OC” (4.5/11) and “Arrested Development” (3.4/8) and the second best score to date for reality skein “The Simple Life” (6.1/16), which ends its run this week.

And on Sunday, airing behind football, “The Simpsons” posted its best numbers in 11 months (7.8/18 in 18-49, 16.30m).

On the other hand, the preems of new Friday series “Totally Outrageous Behavior” and “World’s Craziest Videos” didn’t do much, nor did struggling drama “Boston Public.”

CBS, whose adults 25-54 victory was its ninth in 16 weeks this season, received a strong perf from Friday drama “Joan of Arcadia,” which set some series highs and led its 8 o’clock hour in kids, persons 12-34, adults 18-49, adults 25-54 and total viewers.

Also of note were the best scores yet for rookie Tuesday drama “Navy NCIS” (3.1/8 in 18-49, 14.51m) and the largest aud in more than a year for Monday’s “CSI: Miami” (20.40m).

‘Apprentice’ strong

At NBC, “The Apprentice” (9.1/22 in 18-49, 18.49m) bowed to the best results for a premiering reality series since Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” a year ago (Daily Variety, Jan. 5), and both “Friends” and “ER” chipped in with best-since-September results.

There were other drama standouts, including series highs for “Las Vegas” (5.6/13 in 18-49, 13.17m) and the best rating in a year for “Law & Order: SVU” (6.0/15 in 18-49). Also, Sunday’s “American Dreams” matched a season high in 18-49 (3.8/9) and was the crowded 8 o’clock hour’s top drama choice among viewers under 50.

ABC did not have any big ratings stories for the week, but it continues to generate winning numbers for some of its comedies.

Rookie Tuesday laffer “I’m With Her” retained a best-yet 100% of its “8 Simple Rules” 18-49 lead-in (4.0/10), while lead-out “According to Jim” (5.0/12) defeated a firstrun of NBC’s “Frasier” by a best-ever 28% (5.0/12 vs. 3.9/10). Net won Friday in 18-49, as “Life With Bonnie” (3.4/9 in 18-49, 8.27m) looked strong in holding all of its “Hope & Faith” lead-in.

‘Cast Away’ draws aud

The Alphabet also scored with Monday’s “Cast Away” (4.5/11 in 18-49, 13.96m), the highest-rated theatrical preem on any net in more than a year.

The WB defeated UPN for fifth-place honors during the week, although both were down sharply vs. a year ago.

Among ad-supported cable networks, TNT (0.84 rating in 18-49, 2.28 million) edged out USA (0.82, 2.22m) for the week’s bragging rights.

Nickelodeon’s new live-action comedy series “Drake & Josh” got off to a good start Sunday at 7:30, attracting 3.2 million viewers and providing big year-to-year gains for the net in kids, teen and tween demos.

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