Michael Phelps, Garret Weber-Gale


Maybe there really is something in the water.

Where the Beijing Games are concerned, NBC's ratings are piling up about as high as swimming records are falling.

Today, the network estimated 157 million people, or more than half the U.S. population, caught some Olympic action on at least one of its outlets, including USA, MSNBC and Oxygen, during the first four days of the games.

That's an 11 percent viewership increase over the first four days of the 2004 Athens Games, NBC said.

Friday's opening ceremony drew the biggest prime-time crowd, averaging 34.9 million viewers, more than anything on TV since last winter's NFL conference championship games and Super Bowl.

For the week, the turnout was only rivaled by Sunday night's Olympic coverage, featuring first-week star Michael Phelps and the rest of the furious-finishing U.S. men's relay swim team. In all, NBC averaged 32.3 million for its prime-time coverage that night. The Phelps race, specifically, drew 81 million sets of eyeballs, the network said, not including those who caught the action online.

Saturday was the slacker of the Olympics' first nights, averaging "only" 24.1 million viewers, for a bronze-medal finish in the latest Nielsen Media Research standings.

Last night's coverage, which offered a side dish of gymnastics to go along with more Phelps, averaged 29.7 million viewers. (That broadcast will be included in next week's rankings.)

As NBC's luck would have it, Phelps is not even half-way to his goal of eight gold medals. That means more Phelps coverage tonight. And the night after that.

Elsewhere in the broadcast and cable ratings:

  • John Edwards' future might be in programming. The former presidential contender smartly chose to confess to an affair on Friday's Nightline, which aired opposite the Olympics, and, thusly, drew no bigger a smallish crowd than usual.
  • Fox credited Miley Cyrus's hosting presence with boosting the Teen Choice Awards (45th place, 4.4 million). Overall viewership was up 10 percent from last year; teen viewership was up a phenomenal 77 percent, the network said.
  • Was it a blip or a sign that Jonas Brothers fever isn't as long-lasting as the Zac Efron or even Lindsay Lohan variety? In any case, less than two months after its premiere, Camp Rock (2.9 million for a Saturday night rerun) is already getting outdrawn on the Disney Channel by the Lohan evergreen, Freaky Friday (3.1 million for a Sunday night rerun).
  • ABC Family Channel's Secret Life of the American Teenager hit a new season high with a WB-ian 4.1 million viewers, a number the CW's teen dramas (the returning Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill, and the new 90210) could be looking up long after their fall premieres.
  • Fox's So You Think You Can Dance (sixth place, 9.7 million for Thursday's episode) saved its season high for its season finale.
  • The lure of a season finale didn't help NBC's American Gladiators (27th place, 5.4 million). The franchise was down nearly 40 percent from its previous season-closer, which aired in February.
  • The finale for ABC's I Survived a Japanese Game Show (42nd place, 4.5 million) was a long way off from its June premiere (10th place, 8 million).
  • Not even a clip show could totally wipe out ABC's Wipeout (13th place, 7.3 million). A second-season pickup was its reward.
  • TNT's The Closer (7.9 million) was cable's No. 1 show; TBS' House of Payne (3.8 million) was the top sitcom; Bravo's Project Runway (3.4 million) was the top reality show.
  • Other top cable shows: TNT's Saving Grace (4.9 million); USA's Burn Notice (4.6 million); and, USA's In Plain Sight (4.2 million).

The broadcast network race was a rout, with NBC averaging more viewers (17.7 million) than any network, it said, since Fox enjoyed a Super Bowl-sized assist back in February.

The Olympics was just as dominating in the 18-to-49 year-old rankings, as was NBC, which scored a big win in the demo.

USA was the cable's top prime-time network (2.7 million), followed by the usual suspects, Disney Channel (2.4 million) and TNT (2.1 million).

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 (Friday), NBC, 34.9 million viewers
  2. Summer Olympics (Sunday), NBC, 32.2 million viewers
  3. Summer Olympics (Saturday), NBC, 24.1 million viewers
  4. America's Got Talent (Tuesday), NBC, 12.6 million viewers
  5. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 10 million viewers
  6. So You Think You Can Dance (Thursday), Fox, 9.7 million viewers
  7. Criminal Minds, CBS, 9.1 million viewers
  8. So You Think You Can Dance (Wednesday), Fox, 9 million viewers
  9. NCIS, CBS, 8.7 million viewers
  10. CSI: Miami, CBS, 7.9 million viewers
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