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U.S. Nationals: A Ratings Victory

As the Writers Guild of America strike reached the three-month mark, television ratings continued to fall.

Five top broadcast networks were down a collective 17 percent for the week that ended Jan. 27 in the key 18-49 year old demographic, compared with the same week last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

But some unscripted drama brought NBC good numbers last weekend. The 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships — held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. — drew the most television viewers in five years.

Last weekend’s coverage on NBC attracted 12.5 million viewers. That is sharp increase in viewers from the 2007 event, which totaled 4.7 million viewers on ABC and ESPN2.

The competition was one of the most exciting in recent memory. The rivalry between Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir ended up with Lysacek (barely) repeating as champion. The two skaters tied numerically overall, which meant Lysacek won since he outscored Weir (the U.S. champion from 2004-06) in the free skate portion of the competition. The two skaters each compiled 244.77 overall points. Lysacek was deemed the winner, though, because he took the tiebreaker, the free skate, by a slim 162.72-161.37 margin.

A delightful group of young stars made the women’s event thrilling to watch as well. Mirai Nagasu, 14, won the ladies crown in her senior debut. Rachael Flatt, 15, claimed the silver, and Ashley Wagner, 16, took the bronze.

Meanwhile, newcomers to the senior ranks, Keanua McLaughlin, 15, and Rockne Brubaker, 21, won the pairs title. The silver medalists, Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, stole the spotlight when Baldwin dropped to his knees on the ice and proposed. Inoue said yes.

In ice dance, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won their fifth straight title.

This year NBC broadcast seven hours of the championships, the most network coverage of the event since 1998. NBC and U.S. Figure Skating are in the first year of a new three-year contract.