‘Apprentice’ tops for NBC

Trump reality show opens strong

Don’t count out “The Apprentice” just yet, as a celeb version of the Donald Trump reality skein opened to potent numbers Thursday night on NBC.

The Peacock then continued its strong start to the new year with a huge Saturday courtesy of the highest-rated NFL wild-card action on the day in four years.

Looking at Thursday, a night when Fox scored with college football while ABC and CBS served up repeats, “The Celebrity Apprentice” averaged a 4.5 rating/11 share in adults 18-49 and 11.08 million viewers overall. It built on its lead-in from “Deal or No Deal” (3.7/10 in 18-49, 13.41m) by 22% in 18-49 and stood as the night’s No. 1 show in the key demo.

“Apprentice,” of course, got huge ratings in its first season, but had tapered off in subsequent seasons. Thursday’s opener was the best for the franchise since September 2005 and the best rating for any episode since the fifth-season’s finale in December 2005, the last time it aired on Thursday.

This week will provide a stiffer test for the show as it goes up against firstrun segs of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI.” The latter CBS crime drama will be in repeats most weeks after that, though, while ABC — without any more original segs of “Grey’s — will go with Lost” in the hour, beginning Jan. 31.

Fox’s coverage of the Orange Bowl (Kansas vs. Virginia Tech) was the No. 2 show Thursday, averaging a 4.3/12 in 18-49 and 11.96 million viewers overall.

Meanwhile, in Thursday’s latenight action, the 11:35 p.m. shows hosted by Jay Leno on NBC and David Letterman on CBS both came back to earth after their strong returns Wednesday, but they remained well above their season averages (which included lots of repeats).

In prelim Nielsen results, “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” set the pace with 5.2 million viewers (up 20% season to date), followed by “Late Show With David Letterman” (4.7 million, up 29%). NBC’s “Conan O’Brien” (2.3 million, up 28%) won at 12:35 a.m. over CBS’ “Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” (1.9 million, up 11%).

NBC was also hot kicking off the weekend, as the season premiere of gameshow “1 vs. 100” got off to a good start Friday (prelim 2.3/7 in 18-49, 8.6 million).

And on Saturday, the NFL wild-card game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers averaged a 16.7 household rating/27 share in Nielsen’s metered-market overnights — the highest rating for any primetime program since last May’s American Idol” finale on Fox.

Earlier in the day, the first wild-card game on NBC (Seattle-Washington) averaged a strong 15.4/29 in the overnights; the two-game average of 16.1 was the best for wild card Saturday in four years.

Primetime game, in which the Jags rallied for a 31-29 victory despite blowing an 18-point fourth-quarter lead, is expected to generate roughly a 10 rating in adults 18-49 while drawing well over 25 million viewers. This would make Saturday the highest-rated night for any network this season.

ABC ran second Saturday with news coverage of the New Hampshire presidential debates, which averaged a prelim 2.0/5 in 18-49 and 8.6 million viewers overall.

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