NBC nails lead in sweeps race

HOLLYWOOD — NBC is off and running in the November sweeps, winning Thursday and Friday while ranking as the only major net to improve its standing vs. a year ago.

The Peacock won in adults 18-49 by 21 shares on Thursday and by 2 shares on Friday, settling for a second-place finish behind Fox on Saturday. The net was up on each night compared with its perfs during last season’s November sweeps.

CBS is also off to a fairly strong start, with nice gains on Friday and Saturday — thanks to rookie hits “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “The District” — compensating for a weak showing on Thursday.

Based on final nationals for Thursday and prelim Nielsens for Saturday and Sunday, NBC is leading the November sweeps through three nights with a 6.7/18 in adults 18-49 (up 10% vs. last season), followed by Fox, 3.6/11 (down 10%); ABC, 3.1/9 (down 11%); and CBS, 2.9/8 (even).

In total viewers, NBC’s 15.1 million leads the pack (up 5%), followed by CBS, 10.3 million (down 5%); ABC, 8.8 million (down 1%); and Fox, 8.4 million (down 11%).

Each of NBC’s Thursday half-hours showed year-to-year gains, led by “ER’s” 7% improvement in adults 18-49 (to a 14.6/37). The medical drama nearly tripled its combined ABC-CBS competish in the demo and bested them by 42% in total viewers (27.81 million to 19.57 million).

Net also received dominating perfs from comedy anchors “Friends” (24.43 million, 12.8/34) and “Will & Grace” (19.68 million, 11.2/27). At 8:30, new laffer “Cursed” (9.7/25 in adults 18-49) retained a so-so 76% of its “Friends” demo lead-in — down from last week’s 81% — but still won its timeslot by a commanding 13 shares.

Fox’s “Surprise Wedding” spec (8.78 million, 3.9/10 in adults 18-49) delivered the net’s largest Thursday aud (excepting baseball) since February and some of its best demos since January.

ABC matched its year-ago 18-49 rating (3.8/10) but improved by a whopping 57% in viewers, to 13 million — its largest aud to start a November sweeps since 1993. Also, newsmag “Primetime Thursday” delivered its largest audience of the season (11.18 million) while the 8:30 seg of “Whose Line Is It Anyway” (11.00 million, 4.6/12 in adults 18-49) posted its best numbers since May 4.

Weblets up

The weblets also shined on the night, with UPN’s “WWF Smackdown” placing second in adults 18-34 (3.7/10) and posting its best-ever rating among men 25-54 (3.8/9), while the combo of “Gilmore Girls” and “Charmed” gave the WB hefty increases vs. last year.

That means CBS was the only loser on Thursday, down 34% in viewers (to 8.4 million) and 30% in adults 18-49 (1.9/5) vs. last season. “City of Angels,” the net’s top scorer in the demo (2.2/5), could do no better than sixth place.

On Friday, NBC improved by 2% year-to-year in both total viewers (to prelim 12.8 million) and 18-49 (to a 4.3/13), with “Law & Order: SVU” (13.4 million, 5.2/16) leading the way.

CBS placed second in both viewers (prelim 11.9 million) and adults 18-49 (3.7/11), with gains of 20% and 16%, respectively, vs. the same night last year. Net’s “CSI” was the most-watched show of the night with its largest aud (prelim 15.1 million) and best 18-49 rating (4.8/14) in three weeks.

ABC’s comedy block kept the net in third among adults 18-49 from 8-10 (2.9/9), while a Barbara Walters chat with Barbra Streisand boosted “20/20″ to its best numbers in three weeks (prelim 11.2 million, 3.7/12).

Fox’s “Police Videos” (3.9/12) tied NBC’s “Providence” for the 18-49 lead at 8 p.m., while “Freakylinks” (2.4/7) rebounded from its worst showing to date, but still placed fourth. (Net’s year-to-year losses are the result of a highly rated airing of “The Nutty Professor” on last year’s first sweeps Friday).

Prelim nationals weren’t available for the weblets, but the WB delivered its best Friday overnights to date (4.1/7), led by a repeat seg of “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” (4.7/8).

Reality rules demos

On Saturday, Fox’s reality staples helped the net win the night in adults 18-49 (prelim 4.3/13), 18-34 (4.0/14) and even 25-54 (4.8/13). Excluding the World Series, it was Fox’s best showing on a Saturday in all key demos and viewers (prelim 9.8 million) since Jan. 29.

CBS won the night in viewers with its largest Saturday audience in four weeks (prelim 10.7 million) and placed third in 18-49 (3.0/9). Each of the net’s three dramas were up in demos vs. last year.

NBC’s rebroadcast of “Crimson Tide” (prelim 9.9 million, 3.7/11) gave the Peacock substantial gains vs. last year’s all-drama lineup, while ABC landed in fourth (prelim 5.4 million, 2.3/7) with its first airing of the “Radio Music Awards.” Spec did win in teens (3.4/11) and kids (1.9/8).

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