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Nov 24, 3:42 PM EST

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NEW YORK (AP) -- No one is coming close to challenging "The Big Bang Theory" when Americans turn on prime-time television in search of a few laughs.

The Nielsen company's ratings last week illustrate the CBS comedy's dominance. Nielsen said 15.2 million people watched "The Big Bang Theory" on Thursday, far above the second most-popular sitcom, ABC's "Modern Family," which had 8.4 million viewers.

The Chuck Lorre-created comedy about socially challenged brainiacs is headed toward some memorable episodes, with Jim Parsons' character, Sheldon Cooper, about to consummate his romance with Amy, played by Mayim Bialik.

"The Big Bang Theory" is also the most popular sitcom among viewers ages 18- to 49-years-old, although the gap with "Modern Family" is narrower.

The bench strength for televised sitcoms has to be concerning for television executives. At NBC, ancestral home of "Cheers," ''Friends" and "Seinfeld," the most-watched sitcom last week was "Undateable," a Friday-night show with 2.7 million viewers. Jimmy Fallon often draws that many viewers late at night.

The American Music Awards led ABC to its best Sunday-night showing since last spring, although its audience of 11 million viewers was a dip from last year's 11.6 million, Nielsen said.

CBS won the week in prime time, averaging 8.4 million viewers. NBC had 7.7 million viewers and was the most popular network among 18- to 49-year-old viewers. ABC had 7.1 million, Fox had 5.3 million, Univision had 2.4 million, the CW had 1.49 million, Telemundo had 1.48 million and ION Television had 1.2 million.

ESPN was the week's most popular cable network, averaging 2.88 million viewers in prime time. Fox News Channel had 2.27 million, Hallmark had 1.88 million, USA had 1.61 million and TBS had 1.56 million.

During a busy news week, NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 9.6 million viewers. ABC's "World News Tonight" was second with 9.2 million and the "CBS Evening News" had 8 million viewers.

For the week of Nov. 16-22, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: NFL Football: Cincinnati at Arizona, NBC, 18.01 million; "NCIS," CBS, 16.59 million; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 15.19 million; "Sunday Night NFL Pregame Show," NBC, 13.69 million; "The Walking Dead," AMC, 13.22 million; "NCIS: New Orleans," CBS, 13.01 million; "The OT," Fox, 12.73 million; "Dancing With the Stars," ABC, 12.35 million; NFL Football: Houston at Cincinnati, ESPN, 12.19 million; "Empire," Fox, 11:34 million.


ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. 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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