The executive sweet for ‘Apprentice’

Skein's finale among reality best

“The Apprentice” means business.

NBC’s hot first-year skein wrapped its initial season in boffo fashion Thursday, delivering numbers that put it in good company with television’s top franchise reality series.

Nielsen estimates that an average of 28.05 million viewers watched Thursday’s two-hour finale, which saw 32-year-old Internet entrepreneur Bill Rancic of Chicago emerge victorious. More than 40 million people watched at least some of the episode.

Show dominated the night with an adults 18-49 score (13.6 rating/34 share) that tops every NBC program in the 18 months since a seg of “Friends” checked in with a 14.7/38 in October 2002. And it’s this season’s No. 3 entertainment telecast in the demo, lagging only the Academy Awards on ABC (15.3/37) and the post-Super Bowl premiere of CBS’ “Survivor: All-Stars” (14.9/37).

Among franchise reality shows, the 13.6 demo rating for Thursday’s “Apprentice” tops every finale of ABC’s “The Bachelor,” all but the first two finales of CBS’ “Survivor,” as well as the first-season conclusion of Fox’s “American Idol.”

“The Apprentice” peaked in the 10 o’clock half-hour with a 14.6 rating in adults 18-49 and 29.59 million viewers overall. Show’s final half-hour included live interviews with the winner and other contestants.

Exhibiting broad appeal in various young-adult groups, “Apprentice” also netted a 13.8/38 in adults 18-34 (including a 43 share among women) and a 14.4/32 in adults 25-54.

Its finale numbers were all the more impressive since “The Apprentice” went head-to-head in its first hour with TV’s top-rated scripted program, CBS drama “CSI.” The forensics phenom held up pretty well (7.9/20 in 18-49, 23.79m), although it was off about 15% from its season average. From 10 to 11, the Eye’s “Without a Trace” (5.1/13 in 18-49, 17.13m) ran second, coming within 7% of its season average.

NBC has already greenlit two more editions of “The Apprentice” for next season.

Elsewhere Thursday, the Eye’s “Survivor” took care of Fox’s “American Idol” in their first head-to-head matchup on the night. The reality adventure skein topped the music talent show in 18-49 (6.8/21 vs. 6.2/19) and total viewers (18.71m vs. 15.33m).

“Idol” sked was pushed back a day by President Bush’s Tuesday press conference, with the results show that usually plays on Wednesday airing Thursday from 8 to 8:30.

For its hour, “Survivor” (7.6/22, 20.42m) also defeated a pair of “Friends” repeats on NBC that averaged a 6.8/20 in the demo. Television’s top-rated comedy next week airs the first of its final three original episodes.

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