- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NBC set a low-water mark of historic proportions for TV viewership last week.

The network averaged 4.4 million prime-time viewers, according to data released Wednesday by Nielsen Media Research.

While it’s not the smallest ever recorded by ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox, it’s the smallest to come in a week outside of the summer doldrums of June, July, August or early September.

Only once before has NBC been lower, during August 2007, Nielsen said. The company’s precise records go back to the advent of “people meters” in 1987, but given how dominant broadcast networks were before then, it’s likely NBC hasn’t had such a small audience since the early days of television.

The traditional TV season ended May 20 — meaning three days last week fell during the May ratings sweeps.

The first three days last week were dominated by the season conclusions of TV’s two most popular series, Fox’s “American Idol” and ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” NBC did the television equivalent of waving a white flag, airing shows like “Deal or No Deal” and “Most Outrageous Moments.”

More specifically dedicated summer programming hasn’t started yet, so it was an in-between week for the network. Still, it’s a sign of how hard NBC must work to get out of its rut. None of its prime-time programs last week reached even 7 million viewers. NBC’s most popular prime-time show was “Law & Order: SVU,” ranked No. 25 for the week. By contrast, Brian Williams’ “Nightly News” averaged more than 7 million viewers.

“American Idol” reached 28.8 million viewers for its crowning moment last week down from past season-enders but still enough to make the contest TV’s most popular show by a comfortable margin.

That enabled Fox to win the weekly prime-time ratings, averaging 10.2 million viewers. CBS had 8.9 million viewers, ABC 7.3 million, NBC 4.4 million, the CW 1.4 million, My Network TV 1.3 million and ION Television 540,000

Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision had 3.4 million viewers, Telemundo 1.2 million, TeleFutura 780,000 and Azteca 290,000.

NBC’s “Nightly News” topped the evening newscasts with an average of 7.3 million viewers. ABC’s “World News” was second with 6.9 million and the “CBS Evening News” had 5.6 million viewers.

For the week of May 18 through May 24, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships were: 1)”American Idol,” (Wednesday), Fox, 28.8, 2)”American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 23.8 million; 3)”Dancing With the Stars Results” (ABC), 20.3 million; 4)”Dancing With the Stars,” ABC, 19.1 million; 5)”The Mentalist,” CBS, 16.8 million; 6)”NCIS,” CBS, 16.5 million; 7)”Two and a Half Men,” CBS, 16.1 million; 8)”CSI: Miami,” CBS, 14.2 million; 9)”Criminal Minds,” CBS, 13.9 million; and 10)”Rules of Engagement,” CBS, 12.8 million.

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