While still placing second to a repeat episode of CSI in both total viewers and the overall ratings, Apprentice outperformed CSI in key demographics and proved that similar to 8 PM's Survivor/Friends duopoly, the Thursday 9 PM hour also appears capable of supporting two very different programs.
According to final ratings from Nielsen Media Research, after struggling to draw 12 million viewers versus the previous Wednesday's American Idol broadcast, the Thursday, January 30 telecast of The Apprentice drew an average of 18.9 million overall viewers and a 9.3 rating, 23 share in the Adults 18-49 demographic.
The 9.3 rating followed the 7.7 rating received from a lead-in repeat episode of Will & Grace (7.7/21 in 18-49, 17.3 million viewers overall), demonstrating that Apprentice's performance was reflective of far more than just its lead-in programming.
The last time Apprentice aired on a Thursday night (January 15 8:30-9:30 PM ET/PT), it got a 12.9 lead-in from an original Friends and hit a 10.0 in Adults 18-49. In other words, while its lead-in declined from a 12.9 to a 7.7 (-40%), The Apprentice only dropped from a 10.0 to a 9.3 (-7%), illustrating that viewers "kept their appointment" with The Apprentice.
"Based on the tremendous ratings, The Apprentice gives every indication of being true appointment television," said Jeff Zucker, President, NBC Entertainment, News and Cable Group. "The people who love this show found it in its new time period and showed up in amazing numbers. There's no doubt about it, The Apprentice is a great addition to the best lineup on television."
Apprentice's performance represented a dramatic 48 percent increase versus NBC's season-to-date performance in this already strong time period. The 9.3 rating marks NBC's best result in the hour with regular programming in 15 months (since Oct. 10, 2002). It's been more than four years (Dec. 9, 1999) since NBC achieved this high a rating in the 9 PM ET hour on a Thursday night that began with an encore "Friends."
While, as previously noted, CSI aired a repeat episode, The Apprentice did win the hour convincingly in just about all key demographics. Its margin of victory over CSI was 45% in the Adults 18-49 demographic and 119% in Adults 18-34. Combined with the fact the it was airing a repeat broadcast (which typically score lower in the ratings), competition from The Apprentice resulted in dropping CSI into a tie for its lowest in-season regular time period rating since moving to Thursday in February 2001 (excluding holidays) among Adults 18-49.
Additionally, Apprentice serving as a lead-in, NBC's 10 PM ET/PT repeat episode of ER delivered its best repeat episode performance in 21 months (since April 18, 2002) in Adults 18-49 and resulted in a ER repeat beating a first-run episode of Without a Trace in Adults 18-49 for the first time ever. The ER repeat scored a 6.1/16 in 18-49 and attracted 13.3 million viewers overall.