NBC won a close week in households, and as usual took key demo groups and total viewers for the week of March 17-23. On the programming front, only a few midseason shows displayed staying potential while most of the highly anticipated efforts continued to falter.

The quickest exit last week was Fox’s “Lawless,” which was canned after one episode. ABC’s “Arsenio” continued to decline while “The Practice” had a slight uptick and WB’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” continued to be a bright spot for the netlet. Fox’s “King of the Hill” also is showing staying power.

CBS’ “Temporarily Yours” and NBC’s “Just Shoot Me” continued to show some promise but Eye web dramas “Feds” and “EZ Streets” skidded.

In households, NBC finished with a 9.3 rating and 16 share, according to Nielsen. ABC, given a boost by Satur-day-night skating, was second with a 9.0/15, nipping CBS, which averaged an 8.9/15. But the Eye web improved its performance in young male demos courtesy of the NCAA Basketball tourney. Fox averaged a 6.7/11, followed by UPN’s 3.4/5 and the WB’s 2.6/4.

March 17-23 adults 18-49 averages were: NBC 5.7/16; Fox 4.9/14; ABC 4.7/13 and CBS 4.4/13. In adults 25-54, NBC posted a 6.1/16, followed by ABC’s 5.4/14, CBS’s 5.1/14 and Fox’s 4.6/12.

Fox also won the 18-34 category.

Monday

ABC’s coverage of the Academy Awards this week blew away the competition in spite of the fact that the ratings were the lowest in more than 10 years and the second-lowest in history (see separate story).

Sunday

Fox’s 18-49 Sunday streak extended to three weeks as the web won the night with “King of the Hill” and “X-Files” taking the bulk of key demos. “King of the Hill” jumped significantly from its lead-in, a repeat of “The Simpsons.” With an overrun of the NCAA Basketball tourney providing momentum, CBS won Sunday night in households with a 11.9/20 and adults 25-54.

Saturday

ABC took a rare Saturday win with the “World Figure Skating Championships, Part 2,” which drove the web to a 9.2/17 in households. CBS finished second, followed by NBC and Fox, which endured its lowest Saturday ratings in two years with a disappointing 9-10 p.m. premiere of “Lawless” (4.0/7). Fox quickly canceled “Lawless,” which lasted slightly longer than star Brian Bosworth’s NFL career. On the plus side, Fox’s 8-9 p.m. hour of “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted” won in adults 18-49, 25-54 and 18-34 as well as all male demos. ABC won the night in adults 18-49.

Friday

ABC kept ahead of the pack on Friday, though the 8-10 p.m. T.G.I.F. sitcoms finished just 1 share ahead of all three competitors among adults 18-49.

NBC’s “Crisis Center” suffered a relapse, down 27% from what slot regular “Homicide” averages there in adults 18-49.

Through Friday’s results, CBS’ college basketball tournament was equaling its year-ago primetime average of a 6.8/13.

Fox’s “Millennium,” which was picked up for next year, won the 9-10 p.m. hour in adults 18-49 and 25-54.

Thursday

NBC dominated despite strong sports competition that contribbed to weak post-9:30 performances. “‘The Naked Truth” held just 74% of its 18-49 lead-in, worst in that post-”Seinfeld” slot (non-news) since Jan. 26, 1995. At 10 p.m., “ER” sub “Law & Order” settled for a season-low 18-49 rating for NBC in that slot.

At 8:30, though, a new “Suddenly Susan” blossomed with a 5% build on its 18-49 lead-in, the best perf ever for a slot regular in that post-”Friends” 8:30 half-hour. The “Friends” episode was a repeat.

The relative demo strength of younger-skewing basketball and older- skewing skating was demonstrated when CBS’ hoops and ABC’s skating virtually tied in households but basketball dunked skating by 4 shares among adults 18-49 (4.6/13 vs. 3.1/9). Also, figure skating tumbled by 18% vs. its year-ago marks while hoops slipped by just 5%.

Wednesday

Fox stole the night from ABC among adults 18-49 with “Beverly Hills, 90210″ and “Party of Five” as ABC’s “Arsenio” continued to fade. This time, the disappointing late-season entry held just 70% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Drew Carey,” breaking its own record for worst retention in that post-”Carey” slot.

The night’s other rookie sitcoms are faring considerably better, especially slot rival NBC’s “Just Shoot Me,” which improved by a high-caliber 34% on its 18-49 lead-in. CBS’ “‘Temporarily Yours” was up 6% over its lead-in in that demo while NBC’s “Chicago Sons” broke even.

The case appears to be closed for “Feds” and “EZ Streets,” which both faded to CBS’ worst numbers in those slots since the disaster of last Oct. 30 (“Almost Perfect,” “Public Morals” and “EZ Streets”).

Tuesday

ABC nosed out NBC by 0.2 rating points in adults 18-49, as “The Practice” took a step toward renewed re-spectability. The struggling legal drama finished within a share of slot leader “Dateline NBC” in adults 18-49 after losing the hour by 7 shares the previous week.

At 8:30, “Ellen” continues to pick up speed as a Tuesday temp, improving (in rerun) by a stellar 18% on its 18-49 lead-in from a firstrun “Roseanne.” It’s ABC’s best build in that post-”Roseanne” slot in the 18 months since Sept. 12, 1995 (“Jeff Foxworthy” premiere).

Monday

CBS and Fox tied for first in adults 18-49 while CBS prevailed easily in both 25-54 and homes (Daily Vari-ety, March 19). “Born Into Exile” was NBC’s weakest firstrun Monday pic this season. WB’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” posted a 3.2/5, improving on the 9-10 p.m. average of “Savannah.” It also improved dramatically on its lead-in, “7th Heaven.”

Each rating point represents an estimated 970,000 households, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. The share is the same sort of percentage, except that it’s measured against only the households in which TV is being watched dur-ing the timeslot involved.

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