By DAVID BAUDER
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - For the eighth straight time, Fox's music business soap "Empire" pulled in more viewers than it had the previous week, an unusual standard of success that appears to be unprecedented in the modern television era.
The series' ninth episode reached 14.3 million viewers, second only to AMC's "The Walking Dead" as the most popular drama on television last week. Since the "Empire" premiere in January before 9.9 million people, the series has increased its audience every single week, the Nielsen company said.
A typical new program sees a drop in viewers between its first and second weeks, since a premiere will draw in the curious. Increasing its audience for eight straight weeks is extraordinary, and Fox's research could turn up no other series that has grown for that long since Nielsen began using people meters to measure viewership more than two decades ago.
Among Fox's target audience of viewers aged 18-to-49 years old, the "Empire" audience grows by some 40 percent when time-delayed viewing is taken into account.
That's the good news for Fox. Less welcome is the widening gulf in popularity between television's two biggest music competition shows, "American Idol" and "The Voice."
Two episodes of NBC's "The Voice" averaged 15.1 million viewers last week, a full six million more than Fox's aging champ "Idol." In the four years the two shows have aired at the same time, that's the biggest advantage "The Voice" has ever had in a week when both shows aired two episodes, according to Nielsen.
CBS' new spinoff series, "CSI: Cyber," had 10.5 million viewers for its premiere last week, landing just outside of Nielsen's top 10. ABC's "American Crime" had a promising start, with more viewers for its debut than any other show on the network besides "Modern Family" and "Scandal."
"The Big Bang Theory" was the week's most popular show, with its 18.2 million viewers its largest audience of the season, Nielsen said.
CBS won the week in prime-time, averaging 8.6 million viewers. NBC had 7 million viewers, ABC had 6.2 million, Fox had 4.8 million, Univision had 3 million, Telemundo had 1.2 million, ION Television had 1.1 million and the CW had 1 million.
Fox News Channel was the week's most popular cable network for the first time this year, averaging 1.88 million viewers in prime time. TBS had 1.82 million, USA had 1.79 million, AMC had 1.78 million and the Disney Channel had 1.77 million.
NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 9.7 million viewers, and its edge over second-place ABC's "World News Tonight" was the largest since Lester Holt took over for the suspended Brian Williams last month. ABC had 9.3 million viewers and the "CBS Evening News" had 7.7 million viewers.
For the week of March 2-8, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 18.17 million; "The Voice" (Tuesday), NBC, 15.54 million; "The Voice" (Monday), NBC, 14.67 million; "The Walking Dead," AMC, 14.53 million; "Empire," Fox, 14.33 million; "The Odd Couple," CBS, 12.36 million; "Blue Bloods," CBS, 11.03 million; "Madam Secretary," CBS, 10.82 million; "NCIS," CBS, 10.79 million; "The Big Bang Theory" (Thursday, 9 p.m.), CBS, 10.54 million.
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. AMC is owned by AMC Networks, Inc. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.
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