NBC wins the key 18-49 demographic, but is still second to CBS in total viewers

Football gave NBC one last big push in the ratings last week, as the networks begin looking forward to midseason and a new crop of winter shows.

NBC's burst came from Saturday's playoff game between the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts, which averaged 33.3 million total viewers, according to the Nielsen Co. That was not only the week's No. 1 program but also the biggest Saturday night number in 17 years — since the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.

As a result, NBC won the week in the crucial 18 to 49 demographic and nearly stole CBS' customary total-viewer crown (the final outcome was CBS' 9.7 million versus NBC's 9.6 million).

But appearances can be deceptive. Without football, NBC would have averaged only 5.8 million viewers and been nowhere near first place. But NBC wasn't the only beneficiary of the NFL's largesse. Fox aired Sunday's NFC wild card game between Green Bay and Philadelphia, which spilled into prime time in parts of the country.

CBS' strength came from its usual array of scripted programs, led by "Two and a Half Men" (15.4 million). The network got a much more modest result from Wednesday's People's Choice Awards, which registered a ho-hum 9.5 million.

On basic cable, the ratings pack was led by ESPN's coverage of the Sugar Bowl game between Ohio State and Arkansas (13.6 million).

scott.collins@latimes.com

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