MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Superheroes Spiderman, Superman and Batman are big box office on the big screen. But on the small screen, NBC's "Heroes" ended season three with reduced ratings: Its original-episode season average was down 30% compared with last year in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic and 39% from year one, when it performed heroics for NBC's schedule.
While it's hard to call "Heroes" a goat -- its 3.0/7 season-finale rating and share made it the most-watched show on NBC last night -- its diminution is just one of the reasons NBC finished fourth last night with an overall 2.5/7, significantly behind first-place Fox (4.0/10), CBS (3.7/10), ABC (3.2/9) and the CW (1.0/3).
"Heroes'" lead-in "Chuck" hit its 2.4/6 season average for its season finale. But it might have been a series finale, since "Chuck" was off 23% from its original-episode average from last year. At 10 p.m, "Medium" (2.2/6), which did not finish its season last night, was off 15% from its normal level.
But in a repeating May sweeps delivery dynamic, even the network finishing first with original episodes didn't hit season averages. Fox's biggest scripted hit, "House" (4.6/13), for instance, tumbled 12%, although it still won the hour. Holding better was the serialized formula for "24" (3.4/8), which was off a more modest 8%.
Second-place CBS saw declines of 11%, 10% and 4%, respectively, for hit sitcoms "The Big Bang Theory" (3.4/10), "How I Met Your Mother" (3.7/10) and "Two and a Half Men" (4.9/12), which won its time period. "Rules of Engagement," however, broke the rule of demo declines by rising a tenth of a ratings point to a 3.9/10. But it was back down again for 10 p.m. drama "CSI: Miami," which despite winning its time slot was off 17% to a 3.3/9.
And it wasn't just Fox dramas and CBS sitcoms, but ABC's reality series that continued to stumble, as "Dancing with the Stars" (4.3/11) dipped 16% from its season average. "Surviving Suburbia" (2.2/5) fell 19% and only held half of its lead-in, as perhaps some of its viewers contributed to the slight ratings rise for rival "Rules of Engagement," which won the half hour. At 10 p.m. "Castle" (2.0/5) lost 20% of its already low base and was last in the hour.
And even though the CW's oft-repeated "Gossip Girl" (1.0/3) and "One Tree Hill" (1.1/3) were original episodes, they dropped 33% and 27%, respectively.
As for NBC, despite the declines, "Heroes" has been renewed for next year. And the day wasn't all bad for NBC, as Jay Leno, the comic crusader NBC hopes will perform heroics as he leaps from late night to prime time next fall, returned to the "Tonight Show" last night after a health scare sent him to the hospital.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: "NCIS" -- the low buzz but highly rated type of series that works so well for CBS -- begins a two-part season finale which will result in a spinoff series.
Wednesday: After President Obama talks about what's next in Iraq and Afghanistan, see how the "Greatest Generation" dealt with war's aftermath on PBS's "Legacy of War," narrated by Walter Cronkite.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
As the contestants dwindle, will ratings do the same -- or increase -- for Fox's "American Idol" and NBC's "The Biggest Loser"?
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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.