You can put away the fogey jokes, because CBS has climbed to the top of Demo Mountain.
With as many of the top scripted series among adults 18-49 as its three rivals combined, the Eye has captured the season that ends tonight in primetime's most important demo -- its first such triumph in 21 years.
CBS remains the oldest-skewing of the Big Four but that hasn't kept it from performing very well in key demos in recent years. Its first-place finish comes on the heels of six straight runner-up finishes behind "American Idol"-fueled Fox, and it has now won in the slightly older adults 25-54 demo in seven of the last nine seasons.
Its perf in these demos will again make CBS the leader in upfront advertising revenue this year.
The net also continues to make a mockery of the race in total viewers, finishing on top for the 10th time in the last 11 years and winning by the largest margin of any network in 24 years (4.1 million over runner-up ABC). And as an added bonus, its "NCIS" unseated NBC's "Sunday Night Football" as primetime's most-watched series during the television season.
"The Big Bang Theory" exploded into TV's No. 1 gun among the under-50 crowd, teaming with "Two and a Half Men" and dramas "Person of Interest" and "Elementary" to make CBS the top-rated network on the key night of Thursday.
CBS' ascent has as much to do with its successes as it does the struggles of Fox, which tumbled 22% from last year as
"American Idol" fell by nearly 30%.
NBC had a solid season, as "The Voice" moved ahead of "Idol" as the No. 1 reality series in adults 18-49 and the net posted its most competitive finish in nine years -- just a tenth of a ratings point behind second-place Fox after finishing a full half-point out of second a year ago. It also definitively finished ahead of ABC (after two seasons when they technically tied for third), marking the first time in nine seasons that it has done so.
Although each network could take away some positives, this overall was a rocky season for the Big Four, which are down a combined 10% year to year in adults 18-49 (10.0 rating vs. 11.1) and off 7% in total viewers (33.8 million vs. 36.4 million), according to preliminary Nielsen estimates for the Sept. 24, 2012-May 21, 2013 season.
Smaller broadcast networks Univision, Telemundo and CW fared better by comparison, as all three drew more viewers this season than last.
Univision scored an historic fourth-place adults 18-49 finish (ahead of NBC) in the February sweep, and finished strong with "Amores Verdaderos" (True Love). And Telemundo is the fastest-growing among all broadcasters for the season, posting its best-ever averages and beating CW head to head in both adults 18-49 and 18-34.
Overall, only two of the 13 half-hours to premiere during this season on the Big Four were renewed -- and neither "The Mindy Project" nor "The Neighbors" can be considered a hit. There was also nary a new reality hit among the half dozen to launch this season, with NBC's "Ready for Love" and CBS' "The Job" getting the axe after just two airings.
Things were better on the drama side, where five shows -- Fox's "The Following," CBS' "Elementary," ABC's "Nashville" and NBC's "Revolution" and "Chicago Fire" -- did well enough to warrant second seasons.
Here's a look at the networks:
The Eye aired the Super Bowl this season, but would have finished on top even without it. The previous time CBS won a season in 18-49 (1991-92) it needed enormous sports help, as it aired the World Series, the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics.
CBS claims five of the season's top 10 scripted broadcast programs in adults 18-49, including four of the top five comedies. "The Big Bang Theory" was the No. 1 entertainment series overall in both 18-49 and 25-54.
CBS was especially strong in the 8 p.m. hour across the week, with Monday's "How I Met Your Mother" joining Tuesday's "NCIS" and Thursday's "Big Bang Theory" as top 10 shows. And while other nets have reality shows that rate higher, CBS continues to get great mileage out of veterans "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race" as well as fourth-year "Undercover Boss."