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 Couric received for her interview of GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin during the presidential campaign. 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, Friedman said. "It is certainly better than the alternative."
Bad weather may have helped Couric, too; perhaps more of the older people that is part of CBS' typical audience stayed home. 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 (6.6 rating, 12 share), to ABC's "World News" average of 9.2 million (6.1, 11). 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. Couric's newscast had a 4.9 rating and 9 share.
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 (7.0 rating, 12 share). NBC had 7.5 million (4.7, 8), Fox 6.1 million (3.8, 6), ABC 5.1 million (3.2, 5), My Network TV 1.8 million (1.1, 2), the CW 1.5 million (1.0, 2) and ION Television 800,000 (0.5, 1).
Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision led with 4 million viewers (1.9 rating, 3 share), Telemundo had 1.2 million (0.6, 1), TeleFutura 530,000 (0.3, 0) and Azteca 130,000 (0.1, 0).
A ratings point represents 1,145,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 114.5 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.
For the week of Dec. 15-21, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "NCIS," CBS, 19.94 million; "The Mentalist," CBS, 19.31 million; Sunday Night Football: Carolina Panthers at New York Giants," NBC, 18.86 million; "Two and a Half Men," CBS, 17.92 million; "Criminal Minds," CBS, 15.16 million; "CSI: Miami," CBS, 14.56 millon; "Without a Trace," CBS, 14.48 million; "CSI: NY," CBS, 13.38 million; "60 Minutes," CBS, 13.13 million."CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," CBS, 12.68 million.
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox and My Network TV are units of News Corp. NBC and Telemundo are owned by General Electric Co. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks. TeleFutura is a division of Univision. Azteca America is a wholly owned subsidiary of TV Azteca S.A. de C.V.
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