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TV Ratings: Fox Strikes Back

Tuned In
Finally, a little excitement in the weekly ratings derby! While CBS remains as unstoppable as a Denzel Washington–guided locomotive in the overall race for eyeballs — it's now won seven of eight weeks this season — Fox finally seems to have shaken off its early season blues, emerging as last week's top network in the closely watched battle for adult viewers under 50. Of course, it got some big help from a massively watched Sunday-night NFL overrun — something rival ABC was quick to point out in a press release today. ABC was feeling touchy because it actually ranked second in the adults 18 to 49 demo, and pretty much declared that it would've won the week had it not been for Fox's pesky pigskin.

Tuned Out
Thankfully, there was some stability in the ratings last week: NBC once again finished fourth in the under-50 demo. In overall viewership, however, the younger-skewing Fox actually came in last among the Big Four, but only by about 125,000 viewers.

Crunching the Numbers
The broadcast race has become pretty boring, with little variation (up or down) in how most shows are doing. So let's check in on the cable world, where things seem to be a bit more competitive — and where conventional wisdom is being blown away in some cases. Take AMC, the network known for critical darlings that don't generally get massive audiences (at least in their initial broadcasts). The Walking Dead seems to be defying the typical AMC model: While some critics (okay, our recapper) have been tentative in their praise for the show, viewers are flocking to it like zombies on live flesh. Sunday's episode actually upticked to 5.1 million viewers (a rarity, since most cable shows tend to open big then fall off in subsequent weeks) — and was actually the No. 1 scripted show among adults on cable last week (SpongeBob had bigger overall tune-in thanks to the kiddies). Walking Dead also did very well with adults 18 to 49, just edging out last Monday's debut of Conan for the top spot among entertainment shows.

Elsewhere in cable, much has been made of the 5-million-plus viewers who tuned in for the debut of Sarah Palin's Alaska on TLC. But the show turns out to be far less popular with younger folks: It finished No. 30 for the week, well behind a showing of Meet the Fockers on TBS and a rerun of MTV's 16 and Pregnant. Meanwhile, Bravo's Sunday lineup continues to do well: The Real Housewives of Atlanta drew nearly 3 million viewers and earned its best ratings with viewers under 50 ever.

Back to the networks for a second: If you've ever wondered why so much is made of the importance of the adults 18 to 49 demo, here's an example of just how influential the category can be. Last week's all-new 30 Rock drew just 5 million viewers Thursday — about 100,000 fewer than an original Undercovers on Wednesday. In the under-50 demo, however, 30 Rock did a very respectable 2.4 rating, while Undercovers averaged exactly half that (a 1.2 rating). And that is why 30 Rock just got renewed for another season and Undercovers will soon be six feet under. Next week in TV 101: Why commercials always seem so much louder than the actual shows.