Michael Phelps, Golden Girls

AP Photo / NBC

Mark Spitz has been vanquished. But not so Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia.

Michael Phelps' Spitz-sinking swim on Saturday elevated NBC to its best ratings on the once-mighty, now-dead night in about a generation.

Still, the golden boy of the Beijing Games couldn't topple The Golden Girls, which held on to its title as NBC's most-watched Saturday-night show of the last 18 years.

Overall, NBC's first full week of Olympic action was ratings gold, with the network scoring the most lopsided Nielsen wins in more than 20 years.

Through last night, NBC said, the Beijing Games were averaging 29.6 million prime-time viewers, up 13 percent over the 2004 Athens Games.

Add in the viewers watching table tennis, kayaking, etc., on MSNBC, USA and other NBC sister networks, and 200 million people overall tuned in the Summer Games' first 11 days, NBC said.

Network sports chief Dick Ebersol credited the surge in interest to "the mystery of China," and the success of U.S. atheletes, led by Phelps.

A Phelps race, women's gymnastics and beach volleyball combined to average 34 million viewers for last Tuesday's Olympic card, which finished No. 1 in the latest Nielsen Media Research rankings.

In the silver-medal position was Saturday's Olympic coverage, which averaged 31.6 million prime-time viewers, and featured Phelps' final swim of the games.

The climactic race earned Phelps his eighth gold medal of this Olympics, surpassing Spitz's 36-year-old record, and earned NBC its biggest number on the night since a Feb. 24, 1990 episode of The Golden Girls ("Twice in a Lifetime") averaged 32 million viewers.

While Phelps came up shy of toppling Dorothy, et al, he did surpass the Feb. 24, 1990 episode of Empty Nest, a Golden Girls spinoff, which "only" averaged 31.4 million viewers.

Apparently before uncovering the Golden Girls rating, NBC, in fact, awarded Phelps its Nielsen gold medal in a press release that trumpeted the swimmer's victory over Empty Nest.

In the end, not even The Golden Girls could match the 40 million that NBC averaged for the 11 p.m. half-hour that featured the decisive Phelps race.

Maybe the Phelps-Golden Girls bout should just be declared a draw.

Elsewhere in the broadcast and cable ratings:

  • Without Phelps around on Sunday night, NBC's Olympic ratings fell 14 percent from Saturday. Still, the network averaged 27.2 million (sixth place) and didn't give a Desperate Housewives rerun on ABC (73rd place, 2.6 million) a second thought.
  • A repeat of CBS' Two and a Half Men (eighth place, 8.1 million) was TV's most-watched non-Olympic thing, an achievement in itself.
  • With NBC's top rivals beaten down by Phelps and friends, the Univision telenovela Al Diablo con Guapos stormed up the Nielsen charts, placing four episodes in the Top 30. In the young-adult demographic, the soap did even better, as all five nightly episodes wound up in the Top 20.
  • Another Univision telenovela, Fuego en la Sangre, qualified three episodes in the 18-49 demo's Top 20.
  • TNT's The Closer (6.4 million) maintained its No. 1 ranking among cable shows, outdrawing the USA trio of Monk (4.7 million), Law & Order: Criminal Intent (4.6 million) and Burn Notice (3.9 million).
  • A Disney Channel rerun of High School Musical 2 (3.5 million) outdrew an ABC original episode of High School Musical: Get in the Picture (2.2 million). By a lot.
  • Bravo's Project Runway (3.3 million) was cable's top reality show; Comedy Central's Roast of Bob Saget (3 million) was cable's top destroyer of warm-'n'-fuzzy Full House memories.

The broadcast network races weren't races—they were routs. NBC averaged 28.7 million total viewers; second-place CBS averaged 5.1 million.

Among young adults, NBC averaged 12.6 million 18-to-49-year-olds; second-place CBS averaged 1.8 million.

In cable, the numbers held steadier, and the races stayed tighter. USA (2.8 million) topped Disney Channel (2.3 million) and Fox News (1.9 million) in prime time.

Here's a look at the 10 most-watched broadcast network prime-time shows for the week ended Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research:

  1. Summer Olympics (Tuesday), NBC, 34 million
  2. Summer Olympics (Saturday), NBC, 31.6 million
  3. Summer Olympics (Monday), NBC, 30.2 million
  4. Summer Olympics (Thursday), NBC, 29.7 million
  5. Summer Olympics (Wednesday), NBC, 27.7 million
  6. Summer Olympics (Sunday), NBC, 27.2 million
  7. Summer Olympics (Friday), NBC, 26.1 million
  8. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 8.1 million
  9. NCIS, CBS, 7.2 million
  10. 60 Minutes, 7.1 million
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