Heroes cracked the ranks of TV's most watched shows—and superpowers had nothing to do with it. A new ratings rule did.
Per the latest Nielsen Media Research rankings, the NBC show goes down in the books as having aired last Monday, having averaged 17 million viewers and having finished in seventh place for the first week of the 2007-08 season.
But to secure those enviable numbers, NBC aired Heroes twice.
The show repeated on Saturday night, attracting about 3 million new viewers. Following up on an NBC request, Nielsen added those 3 million viewers to the 14 million or so who tuned in last Monday, and just like that, Heroes had its 17 million. Along with its biggest season premiere.
As reported last week, NBC's trickeration was perfectly legal: The network took advantage of a new Nielsen rule that allows networks to combine numbers from multiple broadcasts of the same show, provided the same commercials are also aired.
According to Nielsen spokeswoman Anne Elliot, Heroes is the first prime-time show to gain from the recount process.
"They did it quicker than most people thought they would," Elliot said Tuesday of NBC.
The move has prompted grumbling from NBC rivals, who took pains to point out that NBC benefited not only from being able to count two Heroes as one, but by being able to not count Saturday's Heroes, which was relatively low-rated, at all. (In the Nielsen rankings, there is no record of Heroes having ever aired over the weekend—the Saturday broadcast was essentially a clone created to supply parts for the Monday mothership.)
The rule was under review Tuesday, Elliot said. But as of press time, it still stood. And as such, Elliot said she did not expect NBC to be the last network to take advantage of it: "I think we'll probably see a lot of others using it."
The new rule is part of an overall new direction at Nielsen, which is already folding DVR playback numbers into weekly ratings and developing systems that would measure how many eyeballs are watching shows via streaming video, podcasts and more.
"There are just so many different ways that television is watched these days," said Elliot.
In old-fashioned times, Heroes would have finished in about 14th place, which would have made for a still-solid premiere. Just not a superhuman one.
On Monday night, the show was back to its mere mortal self, averaging an estimated 12 million viewers.
Here are the other ratings highlights of the TV week, which ended Sunday no matter how long NBC would have liked it to continue:
- On the upside, NBC's Bionic Woman premiere (15th place, 13.9 million) was the highest-rated new show among the all-important 18- to 49-year-old viewers.
- On the downside, NBC's Bionic Woman premiere was the lowest rated Bionic Woman premiere ever. Back in 1976, ABC scored a 27.4 household rating (compared to 2007's single-digit 8.5), and a commanding 41 share for the Lindsay Wagner version.
- The 2007 Bionic Woman had to air against ABC's Grey's Anatomy spinoff, Private Practice (11th place, 14.4 million), which was the most watched new show. (The 1976 version of Bionic Woman faced competition from Little House on the Prairie and, probably, static.)
- Original-recipe Grey's Anatomy (third place, 20.9 million) couldn't top CBS' Sara Sidle-salvaging CSI (first place, 25.2 million) in the total-viewers department. But it did top it, and every other show, in the 18-49 demographic. (CSI finished second in that race.)
- Retirees and kids don't know what it's like to work for a Michael Scott. How else to explain NBC's The Office finishing a middling 35th place among the week's most watched shows (averaging 9.7 million overall viewers) but also finishing a lofty 10th place among 18- to 49-year-old cubicle slaves?
- NBC's My Name Is Earl (45th place, 8.7 million) couldn't attract enough viewers of any age to make a splash with its hourlong premiere.
- In its fourth season, Desperate Housewives (fourth place, 19.3 million) isn't want it used to be. In its second season, Ugly Betty (27th place, 11.2 million) isn't, either. But as it's becoming clear in this season of diminishing returns, nothing is. Except over on MyNetworkTV, where there was no place statistically to go but up, and where Jail (118th place, 1.5 million) is helping move the arrow.
- If mothers ruled the world, Brothers & Sisters (19th place, 12.8 million) presumably would have finished in first place. Lucky for ABC, maternal units exercised just enough power to veto CBS' Shark (25th place, 11.3 million).
- In keeping with CBS' underwhelming premiere week, the underwhelming Cane (26th place, 11.2 million) was the network's most watched new show.
- CBS' Numb3rs (38th place, 9.4 million) was Friday's most watched show. NBC's two-hour Las Vegas premiere (39th place, 9.3 million) was a close second. CBS' new vampire-detective show, Moonlight (46th place, 8.5 million), was looking a little pale.
- Last season, ABC had trouble finding a show to follow Grey's Anatomy. This season, it looks to have trouble finding shows to follow Grey's and Private Practice. This, based on the premieres of Big Shots (28th place, 11.1 million) and Dirty Sexy Money (30th place, 10.4 million), which both did okay, but respectively lost 47 percent and 28 percent of their lead-in audiences.
- Death of the half-hour sitcom update: CBS' Two and a Half Men (18th place, 13.6 million) and Rules of Engagement (23rd place, 12.2 million) were the only traditional comedies in the Top 25; Fox's most watched comedy with people, as opposed to cartoons, or Cops felons, was Back to You (55th place, 7.5 million).
- Shows that rated little or no mention in their networks' ratings recaps, and therefore are believed to presently in the doghouse, include: the not-taking-off How I Met Your Mother (49th place, 8.1 million); the Bionic-squeezed Criminal Minds (22nd place, 12.7 million); the getting-no-help-from-Prison Break K-Ville (61st place, 6.1 million); and the been-down-this-road-before-and-survived 'Til Death (60th place, 6.2 million).
- How low can a show on a major network go? If the CW counts as a major network, the answer is 155th place, which was awarded to the honorable Online Nation (690,000 viewers).
- In cable, VH1 scored with its Rock of Love finale (5.4 million), while Disney Channel continued its hugely popular human-endurance experiment with Sunday night repeats of High School Musical 2 (6 million) and the original High School Musical (4.4 million).
- As the number of online tributes suggest, the passing of Flower in Friday's Meerkat Manor did not go unnoticed—the episode was Animal Planet's most watched show (806,000).
- The first night of Ken Burns' under-fire World War II documentary series, The War, averaged an estimated 7.3 million who would not be deterred.
Overall, ABC won the war of attrition that was the first week of the new season by atrophying less than the competition. And also by airing Dancing with the Stars one million times.
ABC shows averaged 11.9 million viewers, down 5 percent from last year's premiere week. The network edged the clever NBC for first place in the 18-49 demo.
Despite its string of not-terrible debuts from the likes of Life (33rd place, 9.9 million), Chuck (41st place, 9.2 million) and Journeyman (42nd place, 9.16 million), NBC couldn't do better than third place in viewers (9.9 million). It was down 12 percent from last fall, in part, due to a diminished-capacity ER (34th place, 9.9 million—down nearly 6 million viewers from last year's premiere) and a cooling Deal or No Deal (43rd place, 9 million viewers for its highest-rated Wednesday installment).
At least NBC could claim a Bionic victory. CBS took its hit—down 11 percent from 2006's premiere week—and fell to second in viewers (11.8 million) and third in the demo. Its biggest losers were nearly all of its procedural crime dramas, save for CSI, which was up over last year's opener.
Fox (6.9 million) was its usual, pre-American Idol fourth-place self. The CW (2.8 million) was on par with last year's handicap.
In cable, the Disney Channel was prime-time's most watched network, averaging 3 million viewers; Monday Night Football-led ESPN was the highest-rated network among 18- to 49-year-olds.
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. CSI, CBS, 25.2 million viewers
2. Dancing with the Stars (Monday), ABC, 21.2 million viewers
3. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 20.9 million viewers
4. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 19.3 million viewers
5. Dancing with the Stars (Tuesday), ABC, 18.5 million viewers
6. House, Fox, 18.3 million viewers
7. Heroes, NBC, 17 million viewers
8. Dancing with the Stars (Wednesday), ABC, 16.8 million viewers
9. Without a Trace, CBS, 16.7 million viewers
10. CSI: Miami, CBS, 15.1 million viewers