TV execs settle for improvement, remaining steady

HOLLYWOOD — In network television, winning means a lot, but it’s not everything.

When victory isn’t possible on a given night, sometimes execs will settle for signs of improvement over where they were a year ago. And in today’s ever-shrinking broadcast universe, even staying flat can be cause for celebration.

Here’s a look at how the Big Six stand on Tuesday nights heading into the 2001-2002 season:

ABC:Net declined by more than 20% in key demos last season (primarily because of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”) and has returned to a four-laffer block — a formula it used with much success for the previous 24 seasons before the quizzer came around and gave Fox a comedy entry on the night. Despite its troubles last year, it won the night in total viewers (14.1 million), adults 18-49 (5.3/14) and 25-54 (6.0/14) and was second in 18-34 (4.3/12).

CBS: Net was down a mere 2% year-to-year in its 25-54 demo but remained fourth (4.7/11), 3 shares out of the lead. It could close the gap this season, as “The Guardian” seems tailor-made for the 9 p.m. hour and should provide much better flow between hit dramas “JAG” and “Judging Amy” than the inconsistent “60 Minutes II.” Eye was second in viewers (12.6 million) but a solid victory at 8 with vet “JAG” should pave the way to overtake ABC, which is now without “Millionaire.”

NBC: Peacock is again putting “Frasier” on a Tuesday island by itself, surrounded by two rookies (“Scrubs” and the much-bashed “Emeril”) and marginal second-year performer “Three Sisters.” If ABC’s “Bob Patterson” can give “Frasier” a battle at 9, NBC becomes even more vulnerable on the night. Last year, it was third in viewers (11.1 million), 18-49 (4.7/12) and 18-34 (3.9/11).

Fox: Net improved by 30% or more in key demos last season, anchored by hotter-than-ever “That ’70s Show.” It was first in adults 18-34 (5.6/16), second in 18-49 (5.1/13) and third in 25-54 (4.9/12). With one-half of its sked devoted to the night’s biggest question mark — “24” — predictions can be dicey, but in success the drama could put Fox on top in 18-49 for the first time ever on Tuesday.

UPN: Net posted double-digit gains on the night a year ago but remained sixth by all key measures, including viewers (2.9 million), adults 18-49 (1.2/3) and 18-34 (1.1/3). “Buffy’s” two-hour net preem is sure to be a ratings winner, but then it’s up to the Jockstrap net to remind viewers where they can find the slayer. “Roswell,” meanwhile, was an unsung hero for the WB last season, faring well in the tough Monday-at-9 slot; it’s got another tough task here.

The WB: Teenage Superman drama “Smallville” has received plenty of buzz and should keep the Frog in strong shape on the night. Last year, with “Buffy” and “Angel,” the net posted year-to-year gains in adults 18-34 (up 14% to 2.4/7) and 18-49 (up 5% to 2.0/5) but was down an alarming 37% in teens (to a second-place 2.7/9).

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