Peacock wins with 18-49; Eye leads in total viewers

Strong Thursday night perfs have helped NBC and CBS bolt out of the gate as early leaders of May sweeps.

The Peacock recorded victories on Thursday and Friday in adults 18-49 to assume the demo lead through three nights. Meanwhile, the Eye is the early leader in total viewers — on the strength of its first May sweeps Thursday victory in at least 14 years — as well as solid showings on both Friday and Saturday.

ABC, Fox and UPN are off to sluggish starts in the four-week period that puts a cap on the 2000-01 season.

According to Nielsen, NBC prevailed in the opening Thursday of the month in adults 18-49 (9.3/24) although the net clearly felt the effects of a vastly improved CBS lineup. The Peacock was down 15% in the demo vs. a year ago (10.9/29), with its celebrity-drenched 8-10 p.m. comedy block off by an even steeper 22% (7.7 vs. 9.9).

‘Friends’ falls

“Friends,” featuring a guest spot by Winona Ryder, fell 25% off its pace of a year ago (8.1/24 vs. 10.8/32) and placed second to CBS’ “Survivor: The Australian Outback” (9.8/29), while “Will & Grace,” featuring Woody Harrelson, edged CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” at 9 (8.7/22 vs. 8.6/21) but was off by 16% vs. “Frasier” last year.

At 10, “ER” remained the night’s top draw in adults 18-49 (12.5/32), more than doubling the combined ABC-CBS newsmag competition (6.2/16) and down a mere 5% vs. its opening-night May sweeps score of a year ago.

CBS rolled in total viewers (19.6 million), winning the first two hours before getting blown away by “ER” (25.41m) at 10. It’s the Eye’s third straight victory over all firstrun NBC Thursday competish and its first in May sweeps since Nielsen began tracking total viewers in 1987.

“Survivor” (26.89 million viewers, 11.2/31 in A18-49) again dominated its hour, but its penultimate episode of the season faded to some season lows, likely affected by the stepped-up “Friends” competition and gradually declining rates of TV usage. Show, which was again the night’s most-watched program, also appears to be building toward a less dramatic finale.

CBS soars

CBS, which also got a timeslot-winning perf from “CSI” (22.33m, 8.6/21 in A18-49), was up a stunning 271% vs. last year in 18-49 (7.8 vs. 2.1) and 112% in total viewers (19.6m vs. 9.3m). While NBC was down moderately vs. a year ago (15% in the demo and 17% in viewers) and Fox off slightly, it was ABC that most felt the effects of the CBS-NBC tidal wave: The Alphabet was off by 38% in viewers (9.4m vs. 15.1m) and by 50% in 18-49 (2.6/7 vs. 5.2/14).

At 9, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” ran fourth in 18-49 (3.1/8), falling behind Fox’s “Surviving the Moment of Impact 4″ (3.2/8).

The WB was up slightly in demos vs. a year ago, with rookie “Gilmore Girls” hitting an all-time high in female teens (5.3/17) and improving the timeslot vs. “Popular” a year ago by 60% in adults 18-34 (1.6/5 vs. 1.0/3).

It was quite a different story for UPN, whose “WWF Smackdown” was down an alarming 34% in total viewers (5.83m vs. 8.77m) and 30% in 18-49 (2.3/6 vs. 3.3/9) vs. a year ago (although the opening Thursday of May sweeps last season set multiple records for the wrestling series with an appearance by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin).

NBC captured Friday in adults 18-49 (prelim 3.6/12) and total viewers (prelim 11 million) although it was down markedly vs. a year ago. Only 10 p.m.’s “Law & Order: SVU” (prelim 13 million, 4.6/15) posted gains.

‘Police’ packs

Fox won the night’s opening hour in most demos with “Police Videos” (prelim 3.2/13 in A18-49), but “The Lone Gunmen” (prelim 1.9/6) plummeted to its lowest score yet. CBS had its best Friday since January (second-place 10.7 million viewers, 3.2/11 in A18-49) as a repeat “CSI” at 9 won its hour in demos and made the difference.

On Saturday, CBS delivered its third consecutive night of gains in both total viewers and demos to start the sweep. Eye net won in total viewers (prelim 10.7m) and adults 25-54 (prelim 3.9/12), with the 9-11 p.m. block of “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “The District” teaming for a roughly 35% gain over a year ago (“Martial Law” and “Walker”) in demos.

Fox won as usual in adults 18-49 on Saturday (prelim 3.2/12) although its reality staples delivered one of their lowest scores of the season and were off 16% vs. last year.

Nothing clicked for ABC, meanwhile, as hastily added segs of “Whose Line Is It Anyway” failed to help much on Friday and Saturday pic “Meet Joe Black” (prelim 6.6m, 2.4/8) didn’t do much business. “Joe” couldn’t match NBC’s combo of NBA basketball and theatrical repeat “GoldenEye” (projected 7 million, 2.9/10 in A18-49), which more than doubled the net’s showing of a week earlier with the XFL championship game (2.9m, 1.2/4 in A18-49).

Through three nights, NBC is the leader in adults 18-49 (5.2/15), with CBS second (4.6/14). Reverse order holds in total viewers, with CBS’ 13.7 million topping NBC’s 12.1 million.

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