NBC gets adults; ABC gets total viewers; CBS gets homes

A closely contested summer among the broadcast nets got even tighter last week as ABC, CBS and NBC each placed first by one of the major ratings measures.

According to Nielsen, NBC edged ABC and CBS by one-tenth of a ratings point in the adults 18-49 demo for the week of July 24-30, while ABC edged ahead of CBS in total viewers. The Eye net could claim a first-place tie with ABC in homes.

And it was just as close in the fringe adult demos, with NBC edging CBS in adults 25-54 (4.0 to 3.9) and Fox tying ABC for first in adults 18-34 (3.0), just ahead of NBC (2.9) and CBS (2.8).

NBC doesn’t have a hot reality show like CBS’ “Survivor” or a phenom gamer like ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” but its top comedies and a strong crop of Sunday theatricals are keeping the Peacock very much in the game this summer. NBC also got a strong performance from the premiere of “Mysterious Ways,” although the supernatural/spiritual drama cooled considerably this week in its second outing.

“Survivor,” meanwhile, posted its fifth straight week as the No. 1 program in adults 18-49 (11.9/36) — the longest streak for any program this season. It again was tops in all key demos, including best-yet perfs in total viewers (27.18 million), adults 25-54 (12.8/36) and adults 18-34 (11.8/38).

“Millionaire” again paced ABC as the quizzer’s three episodes finished second, third and fourth in viewers and third, fourth and seventh in 18-49.

It was also a good week for the most Emmy-nominated broadcast series, as more viewers appeared to have sampled the front-runners. NBC’s “West Wing” hit a summer high in viewers (10.25 million) while “Will & Grace” posted the Peacock’s top 18-34 rating in its Thursday slot this summer. And both CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond” (13.27 million) and ABC’s “The Practice” (14.29) had their largest audiences in seven weeks.

The nets’ adults 18-49 averages for July 24-30: NBC, a 3.5 rating/11 share (up 6% in rating vs. a year ago); ABC, 3.4/10 (up 17%), tied with CBS, 3.4/11 (up 42%); Fox, 2.7/9 (down 13%); UPN, 1.3/4 (up 63%); the WB, 1.0/3 (down 17%); Pax, 0.4/1 (up 33%).

In homes: ABC, 6.6/12 (up 20%), tied with CBS, 6.6/12 (up 2%); NBC, 6.2/11 (even); Fox, 4.0/7 (down 13%); UPN, 2.0/4 (up 43%); the WB, 1.6/3 (down 30%); Pax, 1.0/2 (up 11%).

Adults 18-49 averages for the top cable services: USA, 1.2/4 (up 20%); HBO, 1.1/3 (down 8%); TNT, 0.8/3 (even); TBS, 0.7/2 (even); Lifetime, 0.6/2 (up 20%).

Monday

The much-anticipated debut of Dennis Miller in the “Monday Night Football” booth didn’t pay off in the ratings, as the New England-San Francisco contest became the lowest-rated NFL preseason opener ever (7.3/12); an early 7 p.m. EDT starting time — necessitated by the Republican convention — didn’t help.

CBS (4.7 in homes) topped ABC (4.3) in the election coverage battle; that represents a 21% gain for CBS and a flat perf for ABC vs. the first night of convention coverage in 1996.

NBC, which unlike ABC and CBS did not air convention coverage in the 10 p.m. hour, was rewarded with the largest repeat audience for “Third Watch” (10.06 million) this summer.

The Peacock’s “Mysterious Ways” slipped by 21% in viewers (9.48 million vs. 12.01) and by 25% in adults 18-49 (3.3 vs. 4.4) compared with its week-earlier bow. The series is slated to begin airing on Pax on Aug. 22, although there has been talk that NBC (which partly owns Pax) may keep it for itself if it continues to perform well.

Sunday

ABC enjoyed its best Sunday in seven weeks, as “Homeward Bound” helped the Disney movie (8.26 million) join “Millionaire” (23.87) and “The Practice” (14.29) in drawing their largest audiences since June 11. ABC won the night in adults 18-49 by 2 shares over both Fox and NBC, with “Millionaire” the No. 1 show of the night (7.2/19).

A repeat of “Demolition Man” delivered NBC’s best Sunday pic adults 18-49 rating (4.4/12) of the summer — not bad for a seven-year-old pic that had run multiple times on Fox.

Saturday

Fox won for the sixth time in the last seven weeks in adults 18-49 (2.7/10) while NBC eked out a win in total viewers (6.82 million).

Friday

Even though “Big Brother” drew its smallest Friday gathering yet (7.47 million), CBS won in total viewers (8.05) for a second straight week for the first time since the second and third weeks of the season last fall. The Eye (2.7) also edged past Fox (2.6), ABC (2.5) and NBC (2.5) to win in adults 18-49 with all-series programming for the first time this season.

Premiere of the WB’s animated “Baby Blues” improved on the net’s time period average this season by 8% in adults 18-34 and edged NBC’s “Providence” in the demo (1.3 vs. 1.2).

In another sign that viewers are apathetic at best about anything political: A repeat “20/20″ interview with George W. Bush and his wife delivered the newsmag’s weakest 18-49 rating of the summer (2.6/9), allowing both CBS’ “Nash Bridges” (2.9/10) and NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” (3.1/10) to hit summer highs.

Thursday

NBC topped ABC in adults 18-49 (4.7 vs. 4.6) for the first time in four weeks behind solid scores from its anchor comedies.

“Friends” reasserted itself, winning its half-hour by 7 shares in adults 18-49 over “Big Brother.” The reality series, now airing a half-hour taped episode on Thursdays, had matched the sitcom vet in 18-49 a week earlier with the first half of a “live” episode.

And in its second Thursday try, “Will & Grace” bagged NBC’s best 18-49 score in the 9 p.m. slot (5.3/15) in seven weeks. “Will” also pulled to within two-tenths of a ratings point of “Millionaire” (5.5/16) — closer than previous slot occupant “Frasier” got with any repeat this season.

“Millionaire” did pull away at 9:30, though, topping NBC’s “Just Shoot Me” by 6 shares (6.9/19 vs. 4.8/13). The quizzer also delivered its largest Thursday aud (21.93 million) since June 1, helping ABC win its seventh straight Thursday in viewers (13.72 million).

UPN’s “WWF Smackdown!” drew its best 18-49 rating (3.2/10) since April 27, placing third each half-hour.

Wednesday

“Survivor” was so dominant that it topped the other five nets combined by 52% in adults 25-54 (12.8/36 vs. 8.4/24) and by 26% in viewers (27.18 million vs. 21.53). Its most dominant demo perf came in women 18-34 (14.1/41), where it won by 32 shares over Fox’s “Family Guy” (3.0/9).

The island reality series also gave a big boost to “Big Brother,” which drew its largest audience (16.92 million) since its premiere and placed second for the week in adults 18-49 (8.0/22).

Third seg of the WB’s “Young Americans” notched its best numbers yet among women 18-34 (2.3/6) and placed third in its second half-hour in both teens (2.0/8) and kids (1.3/5).

Tuesday

“Frasier” had a solid debut in its new Tuesday berth, although it skewed older than former slot occupant “Will & Grace.” “Frasier” drew a larger aud than all but one of “Will’s” 9 p.m. Tuesday summer airings (9.91 million) and earned a 4.3 in adults 18-49, just 7% off “Will’s” summer average (4.6).

“Frasier” did fall 5 shares behind ABC’s “Dharma & Greg” in adults 18-34 — a category that “Will” usually won — but, underlining its older skew, pulled ahead of “Dharma” in adults 25-54 (5.1 vs. 4.9).

For the night, ABC won by 4 shares in homes over NBC and CBS and by 2 shares over NBC in 18-49.

Monday

NBC won its second straight Monday in 18-49 as the “Mysterious Ways” preem (4.4/14) matched the net’s best score in the leadoff hour since May 1999 (Daily Variety, July 26).

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