NEW YORK — 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 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 last Wednesday, 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.
"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 (5.9 rating, 11 share). CBS had 8.9 million viewers (5.7, 10), ABC 7.3 million (4.7, 8), NBC 4.4 million (3.0, 5), the CW 1.4 million (1.0, 2), My Network TV 1.3 million (0.9, 2) and ION Television 540,000 (0.4, 1)
Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision had 3.4 million viewers (1.8, 3), Telemundo 1.2 million (0.6, 1), TeleFutura 780,000 (0.4, 1) and Azteca 290,000 (0.2, 0).
NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 7.3 million viewers (4.9, 11). ABC's "World News" was second with 6.9 million (4.6, 10) and the "CBS Evening News" had 5.6 million viewers (3.9, 8).
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 May 18-24, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "American Idol," (Wednesday), Fox, 28.84, "American Idol" (Tuesday), Fox, 23.82 million; "Dancing With the Stars Results" (ABC), 20.31 million; "Dancing With the Stars," ABC, 19.17 million; "The Mentalist," CBS, 16.82 million; "NCIS," CBS, 16.51 million; "Two and a Half Men," CBS, 16.18 million; "CSI: Miami," CBS, 14.2 million; "Criminal Minds," CBS, 13.99 million; "Rules of Engagement," CBS, 12.87 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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