NEW YORK (AP) — At the show's inception in the mid-1970s, the cast of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" was known as the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players." That now seems bitterly ironic for the network.
The final numbers aren't in yet, but last weekend's "Saturday Night Live" with Justin Timberlake as host had far more viewers than anything NBC aired in prime time last week. The badly slumping NBC had its lowest prime-time viewership average ever, even counting summer months, the Nielsen company said.
It's the nadir, NBC hopes, of a post-holiday free fall where the network has come apart without pro football and its most popular show, "The Voice."
NBC's most-watched show in prime time last week, "The Biggest Loser," was seen by 5.9 million people. Thirty-six other broadcast programs rated higher. The network's second most popular prime-time show was "The Apprentice," ranked No. 54. The season premiere of "Grimm" had 4.9 million viewers. "Smash" continues to be a catastrophic bust, with 2.7 million viewers last week.
Late Saturday night offered memories of NBC's glory years, with Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Paul Simon, Martin Short, Candice Bergen, Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin joining Timberlake for a skit about the "club" of people who had hosted "Saturday Night Live" at least five times.
The show had its best ratings in 14 months in an overnight measurement of big cities. The most-watched "SNL" of the season, with 7.3 million viewers, was in January with Adam Levine as host. Based on the overnight numbers, last Saturday's show was probably seen by about 8.6 million people (Nielsen's estimate arrives Thursday).
That's good for "SNL," but an indictment of network programmers that a show that airs so late on a Saturday night can beat anything in prime time.
For that matter, NBC's "Nightly News" with Brian Williams, which averaged 9.1 million viewers (6.1, 11) in the early evening last week, was likely more popular than the prime-time lineup every night.
The second of History's five-part miniseries "The Bible" had 10.8 million viewers on Sunday, down from 13.1 million the previous week.
CBS won the week in prime time, averaging 9.4 million viewers (6.0 rating, 10 share). Fox had 7.5 million viewers (4.5, 7), ABC had 5.4 million (3.5, 6), NBC had 3.5 million (2.3, 4), ION Television had 1.2 million (0.8, 1) and the CW had 1.1 million (0.7, 1).
Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision led with a 4.3 million average (2.2, 4), Telemundo had 1.3 million (0.7, 1), UniMas had 540,000 (0.3, 0), Estrella had 210,000 and Azteca 110,000 (both 0.1, 0).
NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts. ABC's "World News" was second with 8.2 million (5.5, 11) and the "CBS Evening News" had 7 million viewers (4.8, 9).
A ratings point represents 1,147,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 114.7 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.
For the week of March 4-10, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "NCIS," CBS, 20.81 million; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 17.63 million; "NCIS: Los Angeles," CBS, 16.24 million; "Person of Interest," CBS, 14.57 million; "Two and a Half Men," CBS, 13.54 million; "American Idol" (Thursday), Fox, 13.12 million; "American Idol" (Wednesday), Fox, 12.84 million; "American Idol" (Tuesday), Fox, 11.72 million; "60 Minutes," CBS, 11.58 million; "The Walking Dead," AMC, 11.46 million.