Fox in the end zone

Football delivers as net rushes into first

Fox laid some heavy hits on its network rivals last week, dominating the frame in all key demographic categories courtesy of pro football’s NFC Championship game.

Sunday’s matchup between the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles averaged a big 16.4 rating/39 share in adults 18-49 and 40.44 million viewers to rank as the season’s highest-rated telecast in these and other categories. Days earlier AFC title game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts averaged 40.1 million viewers nationally on CBS.

Combined, the NFL attracted a seven-year best average of 40.3 million viewers for its two Sunday semifinal contests. Continuing a curious trend this season, the rating among men 18-34 dropped 14% year-to-year, with viewership picking up in several female categories.

For Fox, the Sunday primetime NFL action helped deliver a weekly victory in adults 18-49 (5.8/15) — the net’s best second consecutive victory and its highest weekly average since World Series week in October. NBC, which would have won the week with ease had their been no football, settled for second (4.5/12), followed by CBS (3.8/10) and ABC (2.9/8).

Fox led as well in all other ratings categories, including adults 25-54 (6.1/14), adults 18-34 (5.2/16) and total viewers (13.63 million).

The Murdoch net also scored with “The Simple Life,” as the unscripted fish-out-of-water skein wrapped its run with slot-winning demo perfs on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

NBC, second in most key categories, ran first in female demos behind season highs for “Friends” (12.9/34 in 18-49, 26.68m), “Fear Factor” (7.0/18 in 18-49, 16.18m), young reality skein “The Apprentice” (10.0/25 in 18-49, 20.20m) and first-year drama “Las Vegas” (5.8/14 in 18-49, 13.95m).

“Apprentice” rang up numbers as impressive as any new reality series since “Survivor,” but must now do battle in its tougher, regular Wednesday timeslot.

CBS enjoyed some standout performances from “CSI” (10.2/24 in 18-49, 28.74m), which was up vs. last year despite the tough “Apprentice” competish; Monday laffer “Two and a Half Men” (series-best 6.2/15 in 18-49); and Friday drama “Joan of Arcadia” (3.1/10 in 18-49, 11.18m), which again led its timeslot.

ABC ran fourth across the board for a second straight week, weighed down by low-rated dramas “Line of Fire” (2.3/6 in 18-49), “10-8” (2.0/5) and “Threat Matrix” (1.4/4).

Net did welcome the return of “The Bachelorette” (5.6/13 in 18-49, 12.36m), which won its Wednesday hour and helped boost lead-out “Celebrity Mole: Yucatan” (4.5/12 in 18-49, 9.07m). And Diane Sawyer’s chat with Jennifer Aniston netted the second-best scores of the season for Thursday’s “Primetime” (3.6/9 in 18-49, 9.41m).

The return of “America’s Next Top Model” spelled success for UPN, which pulled into a fifth-place tie with the WB in both adults 18-34 (1.6/5) and 18-49 (1.6/5). “Model” (2.2/6 in 18-49, 4.90m) was up 30% in adults 18-34 vs. its first-season premiere.

The Frog, on the other hand, slid an alarming 30% year-to-year, with steep drop-offs for dramas “7th Heaven” and “Smallville.” On the positive side, Thursday rookie laffer “All About the Andersons” (1.4/4 in 18-49, 3.45m) looks like a good fit out of “Steve Harvey’s Big Time” (1.2/3 in 18-49, 3.23m), building on the latter’s lead-in.

USA led the ad-supported cable networks for the week in total viewers (2.44 million), paced by best-yet numbers for the third-season premiere of “Monk.” The detective skein (1.9/6 in 18-49, 5.95m) ran third in its Friday at 10 hour, topping CBS drama “The Handler,” in adults 25-54 (2.6/7).

TBS was the week’s top cable net in 18-49 (0.92 rating), getting a boost from Sunday theatrical “G.I. Jane.”

TNT didn’t do great numbers with its original remake of “Goodbye Girl,” as Friday’s premiere drew 3.52 million viewers, while replays averaged 2.91 million on Saturday and 3.19 million on Sunday.

* * *

A CLOSER LOOK: Rookie CBS drama “Cold Case” has emerged as the drama leader in Sunday’s crowded 8 o’clock hour, but it’s a much closer battle among the youngest of adults.

Last week, “Cold Case,” NBC’s “American Dreams” and the WB’s “Charmed” all tied in adults 18-34 (2.0/5), with ABC’s “10-8” a lap behind (1.6/4). “Charmed” moved ahead in persons 12-34 (2.1/6), while “Cold” rolled in 25-54 (4.2/8).

It will be interesting to see how ABC’s shift to unscripted programming (home edition of “Extreme Makeover” bows Feb. 15) affects the young-adult audiences of the other shows in the hour.

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