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Webs divvy up demos in late race

Major nets finish with same share among young adults

In one of the last warmups to the new season, all four major nets for the first time finished with the same share among young adults last week — another sign of how hotly contested the upcoming season could be.

NBC won for the 20th time in 21 weeks in adults 18-49 (3.3/9), according to Nielsen, but second-place CBS (3.1/9) and third-place ABC and Fox (who tied at 3.0/9) were all within three-tenths of the lead. ABC was the most-watched network overall, winning for the fifth straight week.

NBC’s victory was led by nightly wins on Wednesday and Thursday and close second-place finishes on Monday and Tuesday. Net was repped in the top five by “Friends” at No. 2 (5.6/16) and Wednesday’s special episode of “Fear Factor,” which tied for third with CBS’ Tuesday installment of “Big Brother 2” (5.5/14).

CBS moved up to second in adults 18-49 — with its highest rating since mid-May — behind three strong perfs from “Big Brother” and the premiere of “The Amazing Race.” The reality series teamed to give the net its strongest Wednesday since May, while U.S. Open women’s tennis delivered the Eye’s best Saturday since March.

ABC claimed three of the top four shows in total viewers, led by “20/20” in its Wednesday premiere at No. 1 (13.26 million viewers) and two hours of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which ranked third and fourth.

Fox delivered its best 18-49 rating since late May, thanks to Sunday’s beefy 24-minute NFL overrun (8.8/30) for the Rams-Eagles game, which led into the No. 1 show of the week in the demo, “The Simpsons” (5.8/16).

In the weblet wars, the WB nearly caught UPN for the first time since May behind a pair of strong movies. “It Could Happen to You” gave the Frog its largest Wednesday aud since May, and “Sabrina Goes to Rome” drew its biggest Friday crowd since February.

And Pax grabbed its largest weekly audience ever (1.86 million) thanks to the strong two-hour Sunday premiere of “The Ponderosa.” Series, a prequel to the classic Western “Bonanza,” averaged nearly 4 million viewers and helped the fledgling net outdraw weblet the WB on the night.

Sunday

Football and “The Simpsons” helped Fox dominate the night, with its best averages since May.

CBS’ repeat of “Amazing Race” (6.78m, 2.4/7 in A18-49) didn’t do much in a post-“60 Minutes” outing, while NBC’s “Weakest Link” (6.87m, 2.6/7) struggled in its new timeslot. Peacock looked better from 9-11 with “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: SVU,” which easily topped two one-hour segs of ABC’s “The Practice.”

Saturday

Fox edged CBS in adults 18-49 (3.2 vs. 3.1) even though the Eye won the head-to-head battle from 8-10 p.m. with the women’s final of U.S. Open tennis (10.27m, 3.5/12 in A18-49). For CBS, it was its best demo score on the night since the NCAA men’s basketball semifinal in late March.

ABC moved up to third with the Notre Dame-Nebraska college football game (7.11m, 2.3/7 in A18-49), while fourth-place NBC got no help from its repeat of “Lost” (3.79m, 1.5/5).

Friday

Two hours of “Millionaire” dominated, helping ABC post its best 18-49 Friday average (3.4/12) since March and lift the net to its 12th straight win on the night in total viewers.

NBC stumbled with news spec “Revenge of the Whale” (5.61m, 1.6/6 in A18-49), while UPN’s reality series “Manhunt” (1.57m, 0.8/3) failed to find many new viewers with its finale.

Thursday

The “MTV Music Video Awards” boosted the cabler to the top among all networks in primetime in adults 18-49 and total viewers (Daily Variety, Sept. 10). ABC led the broadcast nets in total viewers, boosted by the season premiere of “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” whose 8 o’clock seg drew its largest aud (6.84m) since March.

Wednesday

CBS edged NBC in a rare reality battle from 8-10 p.m., as the premieres of “Lost” and “Amazing Race” were overshadowed by stronger perfs from “Big Brother” and “Fear Factor,” respectively (Daily Variety, Sept. 7).

Barbara Walters’ chat with Anne Heche helped “20/20” draw the largest audience of the night (13.26m). It also bagged the best 18-49 rating for a Walters interview (5.1/14) since March 2000, when she spoke with the parents of Jon Benet Ramsey.

Tuesday

CBS’ “Big Brother 2” hit series highs in total viewers (11.19m) and all key demos, including the net’s best 18-49 score in the 9 o’clock hour (5.5/14) since May 1999 (“Joan of Arc”).

It was also a good night for ABC’s “Millionaire,” which posted its best 18-49 score (3.8/11) since June 5, and NBC’s “Dateline” (4.7/13), which hit a six-month high. On the down side, Fox’s short-run reality series “Murder in Small Town X” (4.01m, 1.6/5 in A18-49) wrapped meekly.

Monday

ABC edged out NBC in adults 18-49 on Sept. 5 behind “Classic TV Bloopers” (3.1/9) and theatrical premiere “The Glimmer Man” (11.81m, 4.1/11 in A18-49), which earned the best numbers for a movie this summer.

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