Already packed like a rush-hour subway car, Monday night became even more dangerously overcrowded with the return of Dancing With the Stars.
Back for its 14th cycle, ABC’s competition series averaged 18.8 million viewers and a 3.5 in the adults 18-to-49 demo, marking a significant 34 percent drop versus last spring’s opener.
Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings, DWTS grew steadily from start to finish, improving 9 percent from 17.4 million viewers at 9 p.m. to 19.1 million in the final half-hour episode. The demo grew proportionately, starting at a 3.3 rating before ending with a 3.6.
While DWTS beat NBC’s powerhouse The Voice in total viewers, ABC lagged well behind its rival in the all-important demographic. After averaging 12 million total viewers, The Voice won the night with a season-low 4.6 in the dollar demo––down 12 percent from last week’s 5.2.
As was the case with the DWTS premiere, The Voice continued to build up steam as the night wore on, growing 11 percent in total viewers (11.2 million to 12.3 million). More importantly, The Voice enjoyed a 23 percent lift in the 18-to-49 demo, swelling from a 4.0 in the first half-hour to a 4.9 in the final 30 minutes.
The disparity between ABC’s huge deliveries and its relatively modest demo performance is a function of the older-skewing, less hip DWTS fan base. The cast holds up a mirror to the show’s target audience; this year’s hoofing hopefuls include Jaleel White (Urkel!), Jack Wagner and Gladys Knight.
Last season, DWTS posted a median age of 57 years, making it the second-oldest show on Monday night. NBC’s Harry’s Law had a median age of 58 years in the 10 p.m. slot. Meanwhile, The Voice is the youngest-skewing program on Monday night, boasting a dewy median age of 43 years.
The Voice will open a second front against DWTS on April 3, when NBC will launch a third hour in the Tuesday 9 p.m. slot. For six weeks, the additional serving of The Voice will go head-to-head with the DWTS results show, which returns March 27 in the slot formerly occupied by The River.
CBS’ comedy block appeared to falter against the DWTS-Voice juggernaut, although the network rallied in the 9 p.m. hour. At the top of the night, How I Met Your Mother fell to a season-low 3.5 in the demo, while 2 Broke Girls took an 11 percent hit, falling to a 3.5 rating.
Two and a Half Men was up 6 percent to a 3.8 rating, while Mike & Molly grew 7 percent versus its most recent new episode, averaging a 3.1 rating at 9:30 p.m.
Fox’s Alcatraz was flat versus the previous week with a 1.6 rating; with 5.04 million viewers, the series has now lost half of its Jan. 16 premiere audience (10.1 million viewers and a 3.3 in the demo).
A weaker Voice stalled lead-out Smash, as the Broadway drama fell back to 6.56 million viewers and a 2.2 in the demo. For the first time since it premiered seven weeks ago, Smash finished last in the 10 p.m. time slot behind CBS’s Hawaii Five-0 (9.31 million/2.5) and ABC’s Castle (11.5 million/2.3).
The CW was in repeats.
NBC won the night with a 3.8 rating in the demo, topping ABC and CBS (3.1), Fox (1.8) and Univision (1.6).
While the DWTS-Voice battle may eventually peter out, the full-season ratings war shows no sign of flagging. Through the first 26 weeks of the 2011-12 broadcast season, Fox remains in the lead with a 3.3 rating, while CBS is averaging a 3.1. The fight for third place is even more harried, as NBC’s lead over ABC has narrowed to one-tenth of a ratings point (2.6 to 2.5). Univision will take fifth with a 1.5, while The CW is on track to finish last with a 0.8.