NEW YORK – As it heads toward the conclusion of its 12th season, "Big Brother" is having a strong summer in the ratings.
The Nielsen Co. said the CBS reality show is averaging 7.6 million viewers for its three weekly episodes, a 6 percent increase from last summer's 7.2 million average. Among viewers ages 18 to 34, ratings are up 10 percent.
"We've been thrilled with the ratings this summer," said Allison Grodner, executive producer. She's been with the show since its second season, when "Big Brother" started to emphasize game-playing over the simple voyeuristic experience of watching strangers live together.
Last week all three of its episodes finished among Nielsen's top 12 most-watched shows. For comparison, the only thing on Fox to reach that many viewers was an exhibition football game, and the only thing on ABC was Tuesday's edition of "Wipeout."
Entertainment Weekly recently put "Big Brother" atop its cultural barometer "Must List," calling the show "as addictively silly as ever."
Producers last year learned the importance of casting characters that people enjoy following each week, Grodner said. She believes that's been a big reason for its success at a point most shows are running out of steam.
"You can have a rootable villain or a fun villain," she said. "You don't want to necessarily have someone who is completely hateable."
"Big Brother" is working toward its season finale on Sept. 15.
Meanwhile, the NBC, ABC and CBS evening newscasts combined for a dubious record last week: the average of 18.7 million people who watched one of the three shows last week was the smallest audience those three telecasts have reached collectively on record, since the infancy of television, Nielsen said.
During the slow news period of late August, the broadcasts broke their previous record — set just last week.
For the week, CBS topped the prime-time ratings with an average of 6.6 million viewers (4.2 rating, 8 share). NBC, buoyed a strong showing by the Emmy Awards, was a close second with a 6.4 million average (4.0, 7). NBC tied with Fox, which averaged 5.1 million viewers overall (3.1, 6), for the lead among the demographically desired group of viewers ages 18 to 49. ABC averaged 4.3 million viewers (2.7, 5), ION Television had 1.4 million (0.9, 2) and the CW had 910,000 (0.6, 1).
Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision led with 3.5 million viewers in prime time (1.8 rating, 3 share), Telemundo had 900,000 (0.5, 1), TeleFutura had 630,000 (0.3, 1), Azteca had 200,000 and Estrella 190,000 (both 0.1, 0).
NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 7.2 million viewers (4.9, 10). ABC's "World News" was second with 6.6 million (4.5, 10) and the "CBS Evening News" had 4.9 million viewers (3.3, 7).
A ratings point represents 1,159,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 115.9 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.
For the week of Aug. 23-29, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "Emmy Awards," NBC, 13.5 million; "America's Got Talent" (Tuesday), NBC, 10.8 million; "America's Got Talent" (Wednesday), 10.52 million; Exhibition Football: Pittsburgh at Denver, Fox, 10.13 million; "NCIS," CBS, 9.19 million; "60 Minutes," 8.74 million; "Two and a Half Men," CBS, 8.39 million; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 8.36 million; "Big Brother 12" (Wednesday), CBS, 7.99 million; "Wipeout" (Tuesday), ABC, 7.98 million.
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