‘Friends’ fends off ‘Survivor’

Second episode of CBS reality skein declines 18% in total viewers

HOLLYWOOD — “Friends” again easily handled “Survivor” Thursday in their second battle this season, as ratings for the juggernaut reality adventure series appear to have come back to earth.

According to Nielsen, the second episode of CBS’ “Survivor: Africa” declined by 18% in total viewers (19.59 million vs. 23.84m) and by 24% in adults 18-49 (7.9/20 vs. 10.4/23) from its week-earlier premiere. It again placed second to NBC’s comedies by most measures — topping “Inside Schwartz” at 8:30 but falling further behind “Friends” at 8 — while winning its hour in male demos.

After a strong premiere a week earlier — with ratings inflated somewhat by airing at the later 9 o’clock hour — “Survivor” has dipped to its lowest levels since early in the franchise’s inaugural edition in June 2000.

“Friends” was down 18% week-to- week in adults 18-49 to a season low 12.2/32, but that’s still 4% ahead of its fourth episode last season, when it didn’t have “Survivor” to contend with. In the 8 o’clock half-hour, the hot laffer topped “Survivor” by a best-ever 44% in total viewers (25.58m vs. 17.78m) and 79% in 18-49 (12.2/32 vs. 6.8/18).

At 8:30, NBC’s “Schwartz” (15.09m, 7.0/17 in 18-49) fell victim to “Survivor’s” strong second half-hour, losing more than 10 million viewers from “Friends.” It fell behind “Survivor” in every demo except women 18-34.

For the hour, NBC’s comedies topped “Survivor” by 4% in viewers (20.33m vs. 19.59m) and by 22% in 18-49 (9.6 vs. 7.9) — both repping slight increases in advantage for the Peacock vs. a week earlier.

Perhaps more disappointing for CBS on Thursday was the continued audience rejection of 10 p.m. CIA drama “The Agency.” This time out, “Agency” retained a woeful 38% of its “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” 18-49 lead-in (3.3 vs. 8.7) — and lost audience with each quarter-hour.

“The Agency,” one of the programs that figured to be most likely affected by the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is now performing only a bit better in the hour for CBS than last spring’s ineffectual “Big Apple.” It’s also keeping the net from challenging NBC for the night’s lead in overall audience.

“ER” (26.71m, 13.0/32 in 18-49), featuring the return of original cast member Sherry Stringfield, delivered its best numbers since its season preem. It topped skedmate “Friends” for the first time this season.

For the night, NBC bested runner-up CBS in adults 18-49 (10.1/25 vs. 6.7/16) and total viewers (20.7 million vs. 17.3m). Eye’s “CSI” (23.04m, 8.7/21 in 18-49) won the night’s middle hour in both categories.

The only struggling program to improve its fortunes on either Friday or Saturday was the Eye’s “That’s Life.” Second-year drama hit a season high in prelim nationals (7.9 million, 2.6/8), moving ahead of ABC’s “Thieves” (prelim 6.9, 2.4/7) and ranking as the net’s top show of the night.

In its return to the ABC Friday sked, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (prelim 2.4/8 in 18-49) provided an immediate 14% week-to-week improvement over “The Mole.”

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