- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2008

NEW YORK — After two years of relentlessly bad ratings news, Katie Couric finally has something she can smile about.

The “CBS Evening News” anchor remains in third place behind NBC and ABC. But the average of 7.4 million people who watched her newscast last week was better than any than any week since February 2007, five months after she moved over from NBC’s “Today” show.

That makes four straight weeks where her audience was bigger than at the same point last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. It suggests that two years after the initial bad reaction viewers had to her move from “Today,” some people are giving her a second chance.

The improvement could be a result of the positive feedback Miss Couric received for her interview of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin during the presidential campaign. Miss Palin fumbled on a question about what publications she read regularly, and the interview was a launching point for one of Tina Fey’s “Saturday Night Live” spoofs.

“Basically, she remade her reputation as a result of the Palin interview,” said Andrew Tyndall, a consultant who studies the content of nightly newscasts.

Since January, the “CBS Evening News” has averaged 6.1 million viewers, Neilsen said. People who have tuned in recently can see that the program is much improved, said Paul Friedman, senior vice president of CBS News. “Let’s not get too excited until we see a longer run” of improved ratings, Mr. Friedman said. “It is certainly better than the alternative.”

Bad weather may also have helped Miss Couric; perhaps more of the older viewers that are part of CBS’ typical audience stayed home. Mr. Tyndall also said that last week, without much promotion, the CBS newscast ran investigative reports on three nights that stretched almost to the length of a “60 Minutes” piece.

NBC’s “Nightly News” averaged 10.1 million viewers last week, to ABC’s “World News” average of 9.2 million. That’s been another quiet trend of the past month, when the newscasts have spent considerable time on bad economic news: Brian Williams of NBC has opened a significant margin over ABC’s Charles Gibson.

Meanwhile, CBS had another dominant week in prime time, and has now become the only one of the top four networks to increase its audience over last year. Of the 44 different half-hours in prime-time last week, CBS was the most popular network for 32 of them, or 73 percent, Nielsen said.

Except for Sunday’s National Football League game between Carolina Panthers and the New York Giants on NBC and its pre-game show, CBS had the 11 most popular programs in prime-time television, topped by the 19.9 million people who watched “NCIS.”

CBS averaged 11.2 million viewers for the week ending Dec. 21. NBC had 7.5 million, Fox 6.1 million and ABC 5.1 million. Following were My Network TV with 1.8 million, the CW with 1.5 million and ION Television 800,000. Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision led with 4 million viewers, Telemundo had 1.2 million, TeleFutura 530,000 and Azteca 130,000.

For the week of Dec. 15 through Dec.21, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: 1.)”NCIS,” CBS, 19.9 million; 2.) “The Mentalist,” CBS, 19.3 million; 3.) Sunday Night Football: Carolina Panthers at New York Giants,” NBC, 18.8 million; 4.) “Two and a Half Men,” CBS, 17.9 million; and 5.)”Criminal Minds,” CBS, 15.1 million.

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