Auds opt for a different game

Peacock seals the 'Deal'

On a night when the lopsided NCAA men’s basketball title game on CBS settled for so-so numbers, NBC’s hot gamer “Deal or No Deal” hit series highs.

Expanded to two hours for the first time, the Howie Mandel-hosted “Deal or No Deal” won the 8-10 p.m. time period with a 5.9 rating/15 share in adults 18-49 and 17.75 million viewers overall, according to Nielsen figures — the net’s best demo showing in the slot in more than two years.

Gameshow was originally skedded as a weekly series on Mondays, but NBC added regular Friday airings last month and also seems intent on making its recently added Wednesday edition a regular occurrence. Show is expected to land at least one slot on the fall sked when the Peacock announces its 2006-07 lineup next month.

“Deal” lifted “The Apprentice 5,” airing an hour later than usual at 10, to its best scores to date (4.3/11 in 18-49, 10.21m), placing second to hoops.

It was a disappointing finish to a 25th year of March Madness for CBS, meanwhile, as both Saturday’s Final Four matchups and Monday’s championship contest resulted in blowouts.

Monday’s 73-57 victory for the U. of Florida over UCLA averaged a 6.2/16 in 18-49 and 17.75 million viewers overall. That’s off 29% in 18-49 from last year’s strong score for the North Carolina-Illinois final (8.7/22) and stands as the second least-watched championship contest to date (Connecticut-Georgia Tech drew 17.09 million two years ago).

These figures are all based on in-home viewing estimates by Nielsen and don’t take into consideration viewing at sports bars, restaurants or college dormitories. Beginning in January, the ratings company will incorporate dorms as well as fraternities and sororities into its national sample.

CBS ran a solid second to NBC for the night in 18-49, 25-54 and total viewers and won in key male demos.

Elsewhere Monday, Fox’s male-skewing “24” (5.2/12 in 18-49, 12.47m) held up pretty well opposite basketball and “Deal.” Thriller is up 12% in adults 18-49 through the same point of its run a year ago.

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