'Survivor,' 'ER' pace ratings race

Powerhouse Thursday lineups lifted NBC and CBS to ratings victories last week, with the Peacock delivering its best demo scores since February and the Eye once again attracting the most viewers overall.

According to Nielsen estimates for the week of April 23-29, NBC captured its second straight week in adults 18-49, topping second-place Fox by 1 share. Net won Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and delivered more competitive finishes than usual on Monday and Sunday.

CBS, which placed third in adults 18-49 and second in 25-54, won for a fourth straight week in total viewers to pull within 164,000 viewers of first-place ABC in the seasonlong battle for largest overall audience. Conclusion of “Survivor: The Australian Outback” could pull the Eye even later this week, but plenty of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” stunts late in the sweep will give ABC an end-of-season jolt of its own.

NBC and CBS, meanwhile, continue to enjoy early leads in the four-week May sweep.

Through Monday of this week (five nights), NBC tops the adults 18-49 field with a 5.0/15 (down 6% in rating vs. a year ago), followed by Fox, 4.2/13 (down 2%); CBS, 4.1/12 (up 32%); ABC, 3.6/10 (down 29%); UPN, 1.6/5 (down 11%); and the WB, 1.2/3 (down 8%).

In total viewers, CBS leads the way with an average of 13.1 million (up 17%), followed by NBC, 11.8m (down 2%); ABC, 10.5m (down 28%); Fox, 8.9m (down 1%); UPN, 4.1m (down 13%), and the WB, 3.0m (down 5%).

The week’s top six programs in adults 18-49 aired on Thursday (four on NBC, two on CBS), led by the Peacock’s “ER” (12.5/32) and the Eye’s “Survivor” (11.2/31). “Survivor,” as it has been every time it’s aired in its regular Thursday slot, was the week’s most-watched program (26.89 million viewers), followed by “ER” (25.54m).

Fox’s second-place finish in adults 18-49 — as well as its fifth straight victory in adults 18-34 — was fueled by strong showings on every night but Thursday. Net claimed nine of the week’s top 20 shows in 18-34.

It was another down week for ABC, which was fourth in adults 18-49 and third in total viewers for a second straight week. In some demos, the net was off by 30% vs. the same frame a year ago.

UPN, boosted by a strong Friday movie showing with “The Fifth Element,” again topped the WB in total viewers, but the Frog net, led by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dawson’s Creek,” prevailed in adults 18-34.

Sunday

Powered by the most-watched show of the night, “Millionaire” (18.66m), ABC was an easy winner in total viewers. Fox won the night in all key demos, boosted by a triple dose of “The Simpsons” and winning scores for “Malcolm in the Middle” and “The X-Files.”

NBC won the night’s movie battle, with theatrical “U.S. Marshals” (12.93m, 5.2/13 in A18-49) easily topping CBS’ live version of “On Golden Pond” (11.82m, 2.5/6) and delivering NBC’s best movie score since “Titanic” in November.

HBO’s “The Sopranos” (8.44m) fell to its smallest aud since March 25 (opposite the Oscars) but that’s still more than three times what the cabler attracted a year ago with a seg of “Sex and the City.”

Saturday

CBS dominated in total viewers (10.8m) and won in adults 25-54 (4.0/12) with its best score since February. Rookie drama “The District” was the No. 1 program on any net in viewers (13.24m) and adults 18-49 (4.0/13) and was the Eye’s No. 2 drama for the week — behind only “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

Fox won in adults 18-49 (3.3/12) but, for a rare time this season, was down vs. the same week a year ago (3.8/13).

Network preem of “Meet Joe Black” on ABC (6.64m, 2.4/8 in A18-49) couldn’t keep up with NBC’s rebroadcast of “GoldenEye” (7.02m, 2.8/10),

Friday

NBC held on for victories in total viewers (11.1 million) and adults 18-49 (3.6/12), although its “Providence” (11.04m, 3.1/12) looked tired at 8, falling about 20% behind last year’s scores. At 10, though, “Law & Order: SVU” was up year-to-year in both viewers (13.4m vs. 12.8m) and 18-49 (4.7/15 vs. 4.5/14).

Repeat of theatrical “Fifth Element” delivered the largest non-specials Friday aud ever for UPN (3.70m). From 9-10, UPN ranked fourth among total viewers, topping the WB and Fox.

A special repeat seg of “CSI” pumped some life back into the Eye’s Friday lineup, winning its 9 p.m. hour in all key demos and boosting lead-out “Nash Bridges” (9.61m, 3.6/11) to its best marks since February.

Thursday

CBS won a May sweep Thursday in total viewers for the first time on record (since at least 1987), powered by “Survivor” and “CSI.” NBC still proved too much in adults 18-49 (Daily Variety, April 30).

NBC’s “ER” dominated the night’s final hour and was also the week’s top show in adults 18-34 (11.3/32) as well as all adult female demos. “Just Shoot Me,” featuring a guest spot by Kathie Lee Gifford, retained a strong 95% of its “Will & Grace” lead-in among adults 18-49 (8.3/20 vs. 8.7/22), but CBS’ “CSI” still won the hour by that measure (8.6/21) as well as total viewers (22.33m).

UPN’s “WWF Smackdown” (5.83m, 2.3/6) fell to season-low marks, perhaps in part due to stronger-than-usual numbers for male-oriented Fox specs “World’s Worst Drivers 3″ and “Surviving the Moment of Impact 4.” Fox moved up to third on the night (2.9/7) — ahead of the WB, UPN and ABC — for the first time since January.

The WB’s “Gilmore Girls” finished third for its hour — behind only “Survivor” and NBC’s comedies — in women 18-34 (2.3/6).

Wednesday

NBC crushed the competish in total viewers (13.4m) and sneaked past Fox and ABC to win in adults 18-49 (5.1/14), even though “Ed” and “Law & Order” aired repeat segs.

Fox was second in adults 18-49, led by “Boot Camp” (5.4/11), which was runnerup in its hour to an original episode of NBC’s “The West Wing” (6.3/16). ABC continued to receive strong scores from new comedy “My Wife and Kids,” which won its hour in total viewers and key demos for a fifth straight week.

Three-hour theatrical “Contact” attracted CBS’ smallest Wednesday audience (6.45m) since last May.

The WB showed nice year-to-year gains with dramas “Dawson’s Creek” (4.15m, 1.9/6 in A18-49) and “Felicity” (3.09m, 1.5/4) but the latter came back down to earth after a boffo return to the sked a week earlier.

Tuesday

ABC won in total viewers for an eighth straight week as “Dharma & Greg” (13.11m), which was renewed for another season by ABC earlier this week, won its half-hour and built on its “Millionaire” lead-in among adults 18-49 and other demos. Net also won in the 18-49 demo, taking the night’s final five half-hours.

Fox was a close second in 18-49, as “Titus” retained a strong 96% of its lead-in from a repeat “That ’70s Show” (4.5/13 vs. 4.7/15) and “Dark Angel” (4.2/11) improved week-to-week.

The WB’s lame-duck drama “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (4.73m, 2.3/7 in A18-49) more than doubled the scores for UPN’s struggling “Chains of Love” (2.31m, 1.1/3).

Monday

“Weakest Link” virtually matched its strong Monday premiere 18-49 score of a week earlier (5.8/16), helping NBC move up to second on the night in the demo (behind Fox) and first in total viewers (Daily Variety, April 24).

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