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CBS on top at midseason

Net is dominating program rankings in key demos

Fox’s “American Idol” still lurks in the shadows, but as the halfway point of the season approaches, it’s CBS that’s ruling primetime — and with some historic achievements to boot.

The Eye, which rode its comedies, dramas and Tim Tebow to an easy victory last week, is the season leader in all of the key broad categories, according to Nielsen. It holds a 7% advantage over Fox in adults 18-49 and is winning the total-viewer derby by a ridiculously large margin (3.4 million over runner-up ABC) — the largest for any net since NBC in 1987-88.

Its dominance shows in the program rankings: Among adults 18-49, CBS possesses half of the broadcast top 20 — including “Two and a Half Men,” “NCIS” and hot newbie “2 Broke Girls”; Fox has five shows on the list, ABC has four and NBC just one.

This is the net’s best showing in the category since at least 1987 (the advent of People-Meters), and no network has so dominated the early part of the season since NBC had 12 of the top 20 midway through the 1996-97 season.

CBS also has more improved time periods than any net this season, up in 14 half-hours — compared to five a year ago.

Last week, CBS led in adults 18-49 with a 3.3 rating/9 share, followed by NBC (2.7/7), ABC (2.3/6), ESPN (1.8/5) and Fox and Univisoin (both at 1.4/4). The Eye also had it in adults 25-54 (4.2 vs. 3.2 for NBC) and cruised in total viewers (12.7 million to 8.3 million for NBC).

For CBS, “60 Minutes” (4.8/11 in 18-49, 18.07m) and “The Good Wife” (2.7/6, 11.65m) were boosted by the football overrun. And earlier in the week, “Two and a Half Men” (4.5/10, 13.94m) and “2 Broke Girls” (4.4/10, 12.10m) led Monday, while “NCIS” (4.1/11, 19.81m) and “NCIS: Los Angeles” (3.5/8, 17.08m) topped Tuesday.

The net also benefited from a massive NFL overrun on Sunday, as the final 73 minutes of the Denver-Pittsburgh NFL Wild Card Playoff game averaged a 17.8/44 in adults 18-49 and about 50 million viewers overall; its overall average audience (41.37 million) is the most in at least 24 years for a game in pro football’s opening round of the postseason.

NBC aired the week’s No. 1 primetime program with Saturday’s NFL Wild Card game between Detroit and New Orleans (11.3/31 in 18-49, 31.78m) — the top scores for any primetime telecast this season.

Net didn’t have much going on the series side, as “The Biggest Loser” kicked off its latest season on the low side (2.4/6 in 18-49, 6.59m) and its top scripted skeins aired in repeats.

ABC got a running start on the New Year by going with originals across the week. New Tuesday laffer “Work It” didn’t do much in its bow (2.0/5 in 18-49, 6.16m), but the net fared better later in the frame.

Wednesday’s “Modern Family” was the week’s No. 1 comedy (5.7/14 in 18-49, 14.03m); Thursday’s “Grey’s Anatomy” was the No. 1 drama in demos (4.5/12, 12.12m), returning from a two-month break to hit a season high; and Sunday’s “Once Upon a Time” (3.7/8, 10.35m) was the week’s No. 1 new drama among young adults.

ABC’s primetime Republican presidential debate Saturday drew 6.27 million viewers and 1.74 million adults 25-54, making it the election’s No. 2 debate — behind only ABC’s on Dec. 10 (7.63m, 2.10m in 25-54) and Fox News Channel’s most recent one, on Dec. 15 (6.71m, 1.87m in 25-54).

Fox had a very quiet week, airing mostly repeats prior to Sunday, when the late-running football game on CBS cut into viewership for the net’s “The Simpsons” (2.3/5 in 18-49, 5.07m). CW welcomed back top show “The Vampire Diaries” to good numbers (1.5/4 in 18-49, 3.32m), but leadout “The Secret Circle” was nothing special (0.8/2, 2.05m).

Highlights outside the Big Four included a strong start for the returning PBS drama “Downton Abbey,” as preliminary Nielsen data show it averaging 4.2 million viewers on Sunday, or about twice the network’s typical primetime average.

This is also a nearly 20% improvement over last season’s first-season average of the critically acclaimed World War I-set program.

On the cable side, MTV’s “Jersey Shore” kicked off its fifth season with more impressive numbers (4.0/10 in 18-49, 7.58m) — down from its most recent season opener but still among the week’s top 10 primetime programs in 18-49.

Disney Channel drew a big aud for Friday’s series finale of “Wizards of Waverly Place” (1.9/7 in 18-49, 9.76m), which hit series highs in core demos like kids 6-11 (4.2 million) and tweens 9-14 (3.8 million). It was the night’s top scripted program in 18-49, edging out a pair of CBS firstrun dramas.

That same night saw another strong outing for Discovery’s “Gold Rush” (1.9/6, 4.69m), which was television’s No. 1 program for the night (excluding sports) in men 18-49 (2.4/8). Net was also pleased with the season-finale perf of “Moonshiners” on Wednesday (1.4/4, 2.90m), with the show hitting series highs.

ABC Family’s new series “Jane by Design” got off to a decent start Tuesday (0.6/2 in 18-49, 1.61m), airing behind the return of “Switched at Birth” (1.0/3, 2.74m). “Jane” retained about 70% of its lead-in among femmes 12-34 (1.8 vs. 2.6).

And “Dog the Bounty Hunter” kicked off its eighth season with good numbers Wednesday (1.3/4, 2.94m), helping A&E stand as the top-rated entertainment cable net for the night in 18-49 and 25-54.

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On Monday of the current week, ESPN rolled with the Allstate Bowl Championship Series national championship, which did an 8.7 rating in 18-49 and 24.21 million viewers overall. The game, pitting conference rivals against each other for the second time this season, saw Alabama blank LSU, 21-0.

This is the second largest audience to date for the cabler, behind only last year’s BCS title game between Auburn and Oregon (27.32 million); prior to last year, the BCS championship had aired on broadcast television.

The No. 2 bowl game this season was the high-scoring Rose Bowl contest between Oregon and Wisconsin on Jan. 2, which drew 17.56 million viewers.

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