NEW YORK - Of the three competition shows that dominate prime-time television, only NBC's "The Voice" is on the ascent.
The music contest with Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton as coaches is giving NBC something positive after years of bad news in the ratings. In only its second season, "The Voice" is competitive with Fox's "American Idol" and ABC's "Dancing With the Stars."
Its viewership is up 36 percent over last season, the Nielsen ratings company said. That number is somewhat skewed by a second season premiere that directly followed the Super Bowl, but even with that episode discounted, viewership is still up by 22 percent.
By contrast, "Idol" viewership is down 21 percent on Wednesday nights compared to last year and 20 percent on Thursdays, Nielsen said. ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" was the second most-popular show on TV last week with the premiere of its 14th cycle, but that was still down 17 percent from the first episode last spring.
"On a foundation night - Monday night - when we've had some trouble now we've got something that is holding its own and indeed winning one of the toughest nights on television," said Paul Telegdy, head of alternative programming at NBC.
The show's positive atmosphere, with coaches instead of judges, seems to have struck a chord, he said.
"Idol" and "Dancing" are also old by television standards, and that's reflected in their audiences, too. The median age of an "Idol" viewer this season is 48, Nielsen said, and the show had many more younger viewers when it was new. The first "Dancing" episode this season attracted an audience with a median ago of nearly 59. "The Voice" audience has a median age of 43.
"It's just human nature to think about what's new and what's fresh," Telegdy said.
Both "Dancing With the Stars" and the new "American Idol" had larger audiences than "The Voice" last week, Nielsen said. But in a measurement of viewers aged 18-to-49, the demographic NBC most cares about, "The Voice" was second only to Wednesday's "Idol" edition.
Fox landed in the week's top 10 with the strong premiere of Keifer Sutherland's new drama, "Touch," which had 11.8 million viewers. That's another reminder of the power of network TV: AMC's "Mad Men" received lots of ink for its season premiere and set its own record with 3.5 million viewers, but that was still less than half the people who saw "Touch."