- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

NEW YORK

A mother of octuplets, poor children from the Appalachians and soccer players from the United States and Mexico all proved unlikely keys to ratings success for television networks last week.

Ann Curry’s interview with Nadya Suleman, who gave birth to eight children last month, was seen by 11.3 million people on “Dateline NBC,” according to Nielsen Media Research.

It was — by 2 million viewers — the most-watched prime-time program on struggling NBC last week. NBC hadn’t gotten as many viewers in the time slot since Election Night, and, for “Dateline NBC,” it was the biggest audience since Matt Lauer interviewed Britain’s Prince William and Prince Harry in 2007.

Diane Sawyer’s special “20/20” on poor youngsters in the Kentucky hills drew the largest audience for the ABC newsmagazine since September 2004.

People responded to the individual stories, too: Shawn Grim, the high school football star who lived in a truck to avoid his troubled family, has received offers of college scholarships and to be a plumber’s apprentice since the show aired, according to ABC.

Erica, a 12-year-old girl whose mother has been fighting drug addiction, now has a local tutor and an education trust fund. The Christian Appalachian Project, a service organization, has received $40,000 in donations and hundreds of calls from people wanting to donate goods and their time, ABC said.

Last week’s World Cup qualifying soccer game between the U.S. and Mexico, held in Columbus, Ohio, was seen by 5.9 million people last week on Univision. The latest event in this growing sports rivalry was the most-watched sports event ever on Spanish-language television, the network said.

The audience on Spanish-language television far outpaced ESPN2’s English telecast. Still, the 1.2 million people who watched on ESPN2 was the largest audience for any of the 26 qualifying matches the network has shown dating back to 2001, Nielsen said.

Fox’s much-promoted “Dollhouse” premiere last week turned out to be a dud, with an audience of less than 4.8 million viewers, Nielsen said.

Another troubled show is NBC’s critically praised “Friday Night Lights.” Its audience of 3.5 million people was smaller than My Network TV’s turnout for professional wrestling. CBS won the week, averaging 11.4 million viewers. Fox had 10 million viewers, ABC had 7.6 million, and NBC had 6.4 million. Following were The CW and My Network TV, with both averaging 1.5 million viewers, and ION Television with 600,000 viewers.

Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision led with an average of 4.1 million viewers , Telemundo had 1.2 million, TeleFutura had 710,000 and Azteca had 180,000. Among network newscasts, NBC’s “Nightly News” topped the list with an average of 9.4 million viewers. ABC’s “World News” was second with 8.2 million and the “CBS Evening News” was third with 6.8 million viewers.

A ratings point represents 1,145,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation’s estimated 114.5 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of Feb. 9 through Feb.15, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: 1) “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 24.9 million; 2) “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 24.8 million; 3) “The Mentalist,” CBS, 19.7 million; 4) “NCIS,” CBS, 18 million; and 5) “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 17.9 million.

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