Viewers play favorites; UPN, WB boost

NBC takes early lead in ratings

The Peacock is perched high above its network rivals in the early going this season, but there’s also lots of flapping going on over at the weblets.

For a second straight week, NBC swept the frame by all key ratings measures behind core returning series like “Friends” and “The West Wing” and promising rookies such as “Scrubs” and “Crossing Jordan.”

UPN and the WB also look strong, with each having shored up one of its weakest nights, and now appear poised to close the ratings gap with the major nets this season.

According to Nielsen, UPN attracted its largest weekly aud since September 1997 and placed third among the six nets in men 18-34 and persons 12-34. It also topped CBS in adults 18-34, marking the first time ever in-season that it has bested one of the major nets in its target demo.

Key to the net’s strong start was a big two-hour premiere for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on Tuesday (one of its weakest nights last season) and the continued boffo beginning for Wednesday’s “Enterprise.”

UPN joins NBC as the only nets to show year-to-year gains through two weeks.

The WB, meanwhile, has yet to roll out its entire lineup but successfully launched its new Friday laffer lineup — led by an especially strong start for Reba McEntire comedy “Reba” — and saw big numbers for the season premiere of “Charmed” on Thursday.

Among the Big Four, NBC topped second-place ABC by a comfy 43% in adults 18-49 while besting the runner-up in total viewers, CBS, by 20%. Peacock claimed eight of the top 10 programs in adults 18-49 and seven of the top 10 in total viewers, led by a smoldering second week for “Friends” (30.04 million, 14.7/41 in 18-49).

NBC won four nights in 18-49 (Tuesday through Friday), with best-ever numbers for a special terrorism episode of Wednesday’s “The West Wing” (25.24 million, 9.8/24 in 18-49).

CBS, whose averages were greatly impacted by Sunday’s cancellation of the Emmy Awards, was second in total viewers, women 25-54 and adults 25-54 (tied with ABC). Its “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” ranked in the week’s top 10.

ABC was second in adults 18-49, men 25-54 and adults 25-54 (tied with CBS), boosted by a strong series preem for laffer “According to Jim.” Net, though, is showing year-to-year declines on every night of the week.

Fox is struggling early on, too, as its two strongest nights (Sunday and Monday) have yet to premiere because of postseason baseball. Net still managed to tie NBC for first in men 18-34 and was second in women 18-34.

Viewers continued to return to favorites last week. In their second outing of the season, “Friends,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Law & Order” and “7th Heaven” nearly equaled or topped their stellar season premieres.

News wasn’t as good for new shows, although a few — ABC’s “Alias,” NBC’s “Crossing Jordan” and CBS’ “The Guardian” — held up well in their second outing. CBS already has pulled the plug on comedy “Danny” after two episodes, while a few other series, including Fox’s “Pasadena,” CBS’ “Citizen Baines” and ABC’s “The Mole II,” are also wheezing.

Monday

CBS won Oct. 8 in viewers and adults 25-54 while finishing a close second to ABC in 18-49. The Alphabet was led by “Monday Night Football” (16.45m, 6.7/17 in 18-49), which held up OK despite another blowout contest.

Eye’s “King of Queens,” “Yes, Dear” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” won their slots in viewers, 18-49 and 25-54. And at 10, “Family Law” (11.71m, 3.8/10) continued to close the gap with NBC’s “Crossing Jordan” (13.26m, 4.6/12), with the former rising and the latter declining since premiere week. “Family” drew its largest aud since March.

The WB’s “7th Heaven” ascended to 8.68 million viewers, nearly catching NBC’s “Weakest Link” (8.71m) for third place at 8. It was also the No. 1 show of the night on any net in women 12-34 (6.3/17) and teens (7.0/22).

Sunday

With the Emmys canceled and the Big Three airing news specs to open the night, ratings were down across the board. Fox won in 18-49 with an NFL overrun and a repeat of “There’s Something About Mary” (9.02m, 4.2/10), while ABC won in viewers, led by “The Practice” (16.02m, 5.9/14).

ABC’s “Alias” (10.74m, 4.4/9) and NBC’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (11.27m, 3.5/8) and “UC: Undercover” (8.12m, 3.4/8) were all down about 25% in 18-49 from their premieres a week earlier.

The WB got solid numbers from its first try with “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” (3.45m, 1.5/4).

Saturday

CBS won in total viewers, but its night was like a roller coaster: “Touched by an Angel” (at 8) and “The District” (at 10) both won their hours in adults 25-54, but new drama “Citizen Baines” plunged to last place at 9. “Baines” was off in adults 18-49 by nearly 40% from “Walker, Texas Ranger” one year ago, contributing to a 21% year-to-year decline for “District.”

ABC (“Good Will Hunting”) and Fox tied for the lead in adults 18-49, with the latter’s “America’s Most Wanted” (3.2/10) the top show of the night in the demo and making up for a soft hour of “Cops” (2.6/9).

Friday

The WB’s new comedy “Reba” tied for third in its half-hour in adults 18-49 (1.9/6), tied for second in adults 18-34 (1.9/7) and led the way among females 12-34 (2.7/10). Net’s 8 to 10 p.m. comedy block averaged a 1.6/5 in adults 18-49 (up 78% year to year) and attracted the WB’s largest-ever Friday audience (4.32 million).

NBC remained on top by all key measures, including total viewers (12.5m) and 18-49 (3.6/12), but only its “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (15.04m, 5.0/16) looked especially strong.

CBS’ “Danny” dropped 2 share points from its “Ellen Show” 18-49 lead-in and was quickly axed. At 9, things aren’t looking any better for “That’s Life,” which even fell behind Fox’s “Pasadena” in 18-49 (1.8 vs. 1.9) and was sixth in some measures.

Fox’s “Dark Angel” was the only net show to improve week-to-week in a target demo, up 7% in adults 18-34 (3.1/12) to win the hour by 4 shares.

ABC’s “The Mole II” (2.1/7 in 18-49) was down another tick from its weak preem, while new 9 o’clock drama “Thieves” dropped by 20% in viewers (to 7.61m) and 32% in 18-49 (to 2.6/8).

Thursday

NBC rolled behind “Friends,” while CBS’ “CSI” won the night’s middle hour in total viewers (19.68m). Eye’s “The Agency” dropped 26% in 18-49 from its mediocre premiere, settling from less than one-fourth the rating of NBC’s “ER” (3.2/8 vs. 13.5).

Big two-hour preem for “Charmed” (5.97m, 2.6/7) helped the WB top UPN’s “WWF Smackdown” in 18-49 for the first time ever (2.6/7 vs. 2.4/6).

Wednesday

A special episode of “West Wing” (25.24m, 9.8/24) teamed with “Law & Order” (22.55m, 8.8/23) to give NBC a huge victory, while “According to Jim” (12.72m, 5.7/15) built on its “My Wife and Kids” lead-in (11.90m, 4.9/15) to help ABC take control of the night’s opening hour among young adults.

UPN’s “Enterprise” (9.18m, 4.6/13) declined by just 27% in 18-49 from its two-hour series preem.

Tuesday

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” in its two-hour season (and UPN) premiere, attracted its second largest aud ever (7.65m) and achieved its best-ever ratings in 18-49 (3.8/10) and 18-34 (4.8/14) (Daily Variety, Oct. 4).

ABC’s critically trashed “Bob Patterson” (9.79m, 4.3/10) failed to get off the ground in its debut, but NBC’s new laffer “Scrubs” (15.45m, 6.9/16) was very impressive in the post-“Frasier” slot, helping NBC win in 18-49.

CBS remained on top in total viewers, with “JAG” (15.92m) and “Judging Amy” (15.76m) both winning their hours and rookie “The Guardian” (14.07m) a strong second.

“Undeclared” (8.94m, 4.9/13) held up well for Fox, retaining 96% of its premiere 18-49 aud — the best week-two hold for any new series on any net.

Monday

CBS won Oct. 1 in adults 18-49 and total viewers, helped by an unsung perf from 8:30 laffer “Yes, Dear,” which built on its “King of Queens” 18-49 lead-in by 7% (5.9 vs. 5.5).

Returnees “7th Heaven” (8.52m) and “Everybody Loves Raymond” (22.46m) remained hot, while NBC’s new “Crossing Jordan” (14.17m, 5.3/13) cooled but still looked strong.

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