NBC’s broom at the top

Peacock sweeps key demos, battles ABC for total viewers

HOLLYWOOD — With Tuesday and Wednesday night ballots yet to be counted, NBC has declared victory among adults 18-49 in this November’s sweeps — but will battle down to the last chad with ABC in a tight total viewers race.

“Considering everything we’ve had to overcome, we’re pleased with this schedule,” NBC Entertainment prexy Garth Ancier said. “We still have time periods that fall in the work-in-progress category, but that’s why we do development for next year.”

Ancier announced that the Peacock had ordered the back nine episodes of new laffer “Cursed,” making it only the second freshman series (along with “Ed”) to be picked up for the full season at the web.

The ATG comedy, starring Steven Weber, airs in the protected Thursday 8:30 slot between “Friends” and “Will & Grace.” “Cursed” is the top-rated new sitcom among adults 18-49.

Both Ancier and NBC West Coast topper Scott Sassa said the network was practicing patience before passing out back orders.

“I think it’s to our credit that we haven’t picked up shows that we don’t have enough information on or aren’t quite sure they’re long-term players,” Ancier said.

Meanwhile, Ancier also touted age declines at the Peacock, which has dropped from a median of 45.5 to 44.9. ABC, in comparison, has aged from 41.6 to 46.2, while CBS’ median age is down slightly (52.7 to 52.1) and Fox’s is older (36.5 to 39.3).

“One of our goals this year was to lower the median age of our schedule,” Ancier said.

And on the touchy subject of rumors about a potential shuffle involving him at the web’s entertainment division, Ancier said that talk comes with the territory.

“I’ve run three different networks in my life,” he said. “I feel confident about our shows, about where we’re going as a network.”

Sassa also refused to join the rumor fray.

“I’m not going to comment on specifics,” he said. “We haven’t commented on people in the past and we won’t in the future.”

Having locked up the month’s 18-49 title and in a fight to the finish with ABC in total viewers, NBC will finish the sweeps as the only major net up year-to-year in both categories.

Through Monday, NBC leads with a 5.7/14 in adults 18-49 (up 4% vs. last year), followed by ABC (5.0/13, down 15%), Fox (4.7/12, down 4%), CBS (3.8/10, down 3%), the WB (1.9/5, up 19%) and UPN (1.7/4, up 13%).

In total viewers, the race is too close to call, with NBC (13.87 million, up 3%) narrowly ahead of ABC (13.86m, down 10%). CBS is third (12.1m, down 9%), followed by Fox (9.9m, down 2%), the WB (4.5m, up 8%) and UPN (4.1m, up 8%).

NBC notes its continued ability to feed a large audience into its late local newscasts. In the 10 p.m. hour, the Peacock is averaging a 7.0 rating in 18-49 (up 6% vs. last year), followed by ABC’s 4.3 (down 10%) and CBS’ 3.7 (down 12%).

Peacock also showed year-to-year growth on every weeknight, with the “Frasier”-“Will & Grace” Thursday/Tuesday tradeoff contributing double-digit demo increases for both timeslots.

ABC, which could threaten NBC’s narrow lead with viewers after Tuesday’s results, will look to put things on ice tonight with magician David Blaine’s much-promoted spec at 10. NBC counters at 8 tonight with “Christmas in Rockefeller Center,” which did very well last year.

Speaking to reporters an hour after NBC, ABC Entertainment Television co-chair Lloyd Braun continued to dismiss concerns that “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and its rapidly aging audience may have a negative long-term impact on the network.

” ‘Millionaire’ is still performing at a level that few shows have been able to hit,” Braun said. “If we took ‘Millionaire’ off the schedule, we could lower our median age dramatically. We could also make a fraction of the money that this network could make this year and a ratings performance nowhere as strong as it is.

“Would we ever mortgage the future of the network to make money today? The answer is no,” he said.

ABC claims six of the sweeps’ top 10 programs in total viewers, led by three editions of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which rank second through fourth.

Five editions of celebrity “Millionaire” boosted the show above seasonal averages but not enough to match its scores from May. Compared with the first celeb edition in May, this month’s five nights were down 33% in viewers and 39% in 18-49.

Its 14 hours overall this month are averaging a 5.7/14 in 18-49 and 20.45 million viewers — down 32% and 16%, respectively, from last November’s 18-night marathon averages.

Over at Fox, net execs crowed about closing the gap between first-place NBC and second-place ABC among adults 18-49 vs. last year.

“This is a network that’s back on track and moving in the right direction,” said Fox Television Entertainment chair Sandy Grushow. “The overall strategy is trying to rebuild Fox for the long haul with series programming rather than sweep-to-sweep with quick fixes. All things considered, we’re in the early stages of turning this network around.”

Fox appears headed for a first-place tie with NBC in its target demo of adults 18-34, ranking as the top-rated network on five of seven nights.

Biggest gains are coming on Tuesday, where a new lineup of “That ’70s Show,” “Titus” and rookie hit “Dark Angel” have produced demo gains in the 40%-50% range vs. a year ago. Net’s vet lineups on Saturday and Sunday are also up vs. last year.

CBS stuck to its original sked the most, opting for specials on only one night of the sweeps outside of Election Night. ABC and NBC, on the other hand, stunted on six nights apiece. Eye chose to air annual late November specs like “Ice Wars” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” a week later than usual.

CBS’ biggest problems came from its Sunday movie, which was down 22% in adults 18-49 and 32% in viewers vs. last November.

The WB is up 22% in adults 18-34 (2.2/6), including a 45% increase among men 18-34 (1.4/4). Each of its dramas Monday through Thursday are showing timeslot gains vs. a year ago.

UPN is up 13% in adults 18-34 (1.8/5), with an especially strong push from women 18-34 (up 21% to 1.7/4), thanks primarily to its Monday comedies.

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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