Olympics sweep Eye to easy win

Even without Olympics, CBS triumphs

NEW YORK — Despite disappointing ratings for the Winter Olympics, CBS Wednesday declared an easy February sweeps victory in total households and the key demographics.

With one night left in the sweeps, CBS averaged a 14.1/22 in households, ahead of NBC’s 9.5/15, Fox’s 8.0/12 and ABC’s 7.9/12, according to Nielsen Media Research. CBS was up 43% from the 1997 February sweeps, while NBC was off 17%, ABC was down 19% and Fox declined 1%.

CBS Television president Leslie Moonves said in a Wednesday conference call that even without the Olympics, CBS in-creased its viewership from a year ago. Factoring out Olympic programming, CBS registered a 7% increase in households, 8% in adults 25-54 and 7% in adults 35-54.

David Poltrack, CBS’ executive VP of research and planning, said that because the Olympics created an irregular February sweeps, some local stations have ordered special Nielsen books that do not include Olympics programming.

Driven by the relatively young audience that tuned in to the Olympics, CBS will win in adults 18-49 and adults 25-54 for the first time since February 1994. Through Tuesday night, CBS had a 7.2 in adults 18-49, with NBC (6.0) and Fox (5.8) fighting it out for second place and ABC fourth with a 4.6.

Moonves said the Olympics had a positive residual effect on other parts of the network’s February schedule, such as “Late Night With David Letterman” and “The Grammy Awards.” In households, Letterman’s show was up 29% to a 4.5/14 and increased 33% in adults 18-49 to 2.8. “The Grammy Awards,” which snared a 17.0/27, was the highest-rated special during the sweeps, and was the best rating for the event in five years.

Throughout the Olympics, CBS heavily promoted two new series, “The Closer” and “Four Corners,” but only “The Closer” performed adequately.

Against tough competition, “The Closer” premiered with a respectable 10.9/16, but then dropped 13% in its second outing to a 9.5/14. Moonves said he was “satisfied” with the production quality of the Tom Selleck series and was “guardedly optimistic” about the show’s prospects.

“Four Corners,” on the other hand, was canceled just hours after the conference call (see related story, page 6).

Moonves also said he was disappointed with performances of “The Gregory Hines Show” and “George and Leo,” although no final decisions have been made about their futures. Moonves added that he “didn’t know if there was an audience for ‘Brooklyn South,’ “which has also not lived up to expectations.

“We will not assess anything until we see the pilots,” said Moonves.

Moonves also addressed the network’s ongoing attempt to convince affiliates about the need to kick in cash to help pay CBS’ $4 billion NFL bill. Despite resistance from affiliate owners such as Young Broadcasting and Freedom Broadcasting, Moonves said the network wasn’t worried.

“There are certain mavericks out there speaking out,” said Moonves. “We know we are going to successfully get our affiliates to contribute to football.”

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