'Charmed,' 'Futurama' perfs go largely unnoticed

HOLLYWOOD — There’s a new police chief cleaning up crime in D.C. and cleaning up in the ratings on Saturday night, but CBS drama “The District” remains under the radar of most TV observers.

Same too for that trio of witches who cast spells Thursdays on the WB’s “Charmed” and the animated Fox pair of “Futurama” and “King of the Hill,” which set the Sunday table nicely for the net’s marquee shows.

Week in and week out, these series are among the potent performers who live in the shadows of flashier and more lauded shows. And they likely deliver better ratings in their slots than anything else their respective nets could try.

(Sure enough, when the nets announced their falls skeds last week, all of these programs learned they were staying put.)

For the next few months, the network marketing machines will be trumpeting next season’s hot new shows, but it’s also probably a good time for programmers and other suits to remember the steady players already sitting on their benches.

Here’s a look at the Unsung Heroes of each net:

CBS

Craig T. Nelson starrer “The District” regularly wins its 10 p.m. Saturday hour in total viewers and adults 25-54, with show’s good-guy-kicks-butt theme working well in the slot formerly occupied by “Walker, Texas Ranger.”

During one recent week, “The District” ranked as the Eye net’s No. 2 drama — an impressive feat for a Saturday series, especially one asked to anchor an otherwise struggling lineup.

For the season, “The District” is averaging 12.7 million viewers and a 4.8/13 in adults 25-54 — gains of 4% and 12% for CBS vs. last season.

NBC

Perhaps the most versatile utility player on any net’s sked, “Dateline NBC” continues to do everything the net asks of it — and that includes airing editions varying in length from 30 minutes to two hours.

It airs regularly opposite some of TV’s top programs — including “60 Minutes,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “NYPD Blue” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” — and provides solid ratings at a fairly cheap price.

Most impressive about “Dateline” has been its ability to generate its strongest ratings when it really counts: during sweeps. Primary three nights (Monday, Tuesday and Friday) are averaging a 3.9 rating in adults 18-49 this season but a 4.2 during sweep months; this is contrary to other mags, which wilt under the stepped-up competition.

Brass at NBC News is certainly impressed with the show, tapping its exec producer, Neal Shapiro, as the division’s new topper.

The WB

Third-year fantasy/horror drama “Charmed” has excelled opposite tough competish like “Will & Grace” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” virtually matching its ratings of a year ago.

It ranks as the Frog’s No. 2 show in adults 18-49 (2.2/5) and women 18-49 (2.8/7) — behind “7th Heaven” but ahead of headline magnets like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dawson’s Creek.”

Must be the Aaron Spelling factor. Guy just can’t seem to get respect for his stuff that works.

Fox

Nod here goes to the one-hour animated Sunday tandem of “Futurama” and “King of the Hill,” which provide a nice lead-in to the higher-rated and higher-profile “Simpsons” and “Malcolm in the Middle.”

Both programs rank No. 1 in their time period in demos like teens and adults 18-34, with “King” one of the season’s top 20 shows in all young male demos. It’s up slightly in all key demos vs. a year ago.

“Futurama,” which also is one of Fox’s top draws among upscale audiences, averages 7.2 million viewers and a 3.5 rating in adults 18-49 — gains of about 15% vs. a year ago. Not bad for a show that often doesn’t air in the East during football season because of NFL overruns.

ABC

It’s been a down year for the Alphabet web, but Drew Carey-hosted improv sketch show “Whose Line Is It Anyway” has proven a valuable role player, thriving in tough timeslots and performing admirably wherever asked.

Since moving to Thursday’s leadoff hour in September 1999, it has delivered ABC’s strongest adults 18-49 ratings in seven years.

This season, its ratings have taken a bit of a hit opposite both “Friends” and “Survivor,” but “Whose Line” delivers stronger numbers than anything the net could hope to muster. Prior to “Survivor,” it provided some of the toughest demo competition NBC’s comedies had faced in years.

Recently, it’s been asked to bail the net out of a Friday jam and has responded strongly. In its second airing on the night, ABC saw its best comedy numbers in the hour in four months.

UPN

Laffer “The Parkers” continues to shine, anchoring a lineup of urban comedies that is truly “unsung” from top to bottom. Year-to-date, net’s Monday block is up in all key women demos and ranks as the top-rated night of series on broadcast television among African-Americans.

“Parkers” ranks second among all entertainment series in black households (14.3 rating) and is the top-rated comedy on the weblets in adults 18-49 (1.5/4) and women 18-49 (2.1/5).

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more