NBC sweeps to demo dominance

Peacock execs were preening their feathers this month, as the network locked up the most dominant November sweep win of any network in six years among adults 18-49.

CBS, meanwhile, had set its eyes on the total viewer prize, and looks to squeak out a narrow victory over NBC.

As has become a torturous sweeps tradition, network execs spent hours Tuesday conducting a flurry of conference calls in the name of slicing numbers and dicing spin.

In the case of NBC, entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker had plenty of both.

Not only is the Peacock enjoying the widest margin of November victory for any net since 1996 (projected to top second place by more than 20% in adults 18-49), but this is its seventh November triumph in eight years in the demo.

“This is the real NBC story: Dominance extends to every daypart,” he said. “It is across the board and it is deep.”

In primetime, through Monday (26 of 28 nights), NBC leads second-place ABC by 21% in adults 18-49 (5.1 to 4.2), while CBS leads NBC by 1% in total viewers (13.35m vs. 13.20m). CBS, with its older-skewing Tuesday drama lineup and special episodes of “Survivor” and “CSI” on Wednesday, is expected to stay on top.

It could be a photo finish, however. NBC, still in the hunt, made a last minute scheduling switch last night, subbing out segs of “In-Laws” and “Just Shoot Me” in favor of two “Frasier” repeats.

‘Virtually no stunting’

“Our success this November is even more impressive because it was done on the strength of our core schedule with virtually no stunting,” said CBS topper Leslie Moonves, who noted the Eye eased into a sweeps win last November with big events such as the Emmy Awards and a Carol Burnett retrospective.

In the sweep’s other tight race, ABC is expected to maintain its slight advantage over CBS among adults 18-49, moving from fourth to second in one season.

“We set out this year with a handful of specific goals, to stop the downward momentum and show real movement back in the right direction as we rebuild the foundation of the network,” said ABC Entertainment Television Group chair Lloyd Braun. “This shows real potential and strong building blocks over a wide area.”

Meanwhile, the WB grabbed the growth story this sweeps, posting double-digit bumps among viewers and in every young adult demo, while UPN saw some declines from last November.

Fox takes tumble

Then there’s Fox. The network clearly stumbled this month — and Fox execs are the first to admit it.

Take the World Series out of last year’s November average, and the network is still down 18% with adults 18-49. Put those baseball numbers back in and the decline looks a little more nasty (down 29%).

“We had no illusions about how challenging this November sweeps would be,” said Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman. “Clearly this is a challenging year for us and we have to evaluate our sweeps performance in that context.

“Rebuilding is extremely challenging in today’s fragmenting TV universe, but especially so when you have a delayed launch,” she said.

Still, things aren’t completely gloomy at the net that Rupert built. For starters, Fox still won three nights among adults 18-49 — the most of any web — and “American Idol 2″ will provide some much-needed juice beginning in January.

Other notes from the nets:

  • Much of NBC’s success came from heavily promoted stunts on regular series such as “Frasier,” which featured a storyline about Niles’ heart attack, and “Will & Grace,” which chronicled Grace’s wedding.

Indeed, “Will & Grace,” “Scrubs” and the Friday and Sunday editions of “Law & Order” enjoyed their best November sweeps ever in adults 18-49, and “Friends” its best in four years.

“Without question the unsung hero of our schedule is ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” Zucker said. “‘Third Watch’ is the most improved player and ‘ER’ the most revitalized show.”

NBC continues to lead the Monday-through-Friday 10:30 battle, averaging a 6.7 rating among adults 18-49 — well ahead of both ABC (4.4) and CBS (3.9), which were both up slightly.

Net’s new dramas on Sunday — “American Dreams” and “Boomtown” — improved their time periods by 24% and 16% respectively.

NBC will also prevail in adults 18-34 and adults 25-54 and show year-to-year gains in teens.

  • CBS also fed on healthy regular series numbers, in particular “CSI.” The crime drama was up 22% year-to-year and helped the net deliver its strongest November sweep perf ever on a Thursday in key demos. Also, “Without a Trace” is holding onto bigger chunks of its “CSI” lead-in, and “Survivor” is holding up very well.

The Eye’s regular sked is also performing very well on Monday and Thursday.

“CBS by far had the No. 1 freshman class,” Moonves suggested. “Looking down into the future, this is where you want to be. … If (NBC) had my freshman class they wouldn’t be stunting so much.”

  • Thanks to “Monday Night Football,” Tuesday and Wednesday comedy blocks, “The Bachelor” and the news division’s interviews that followed the hit reality show, the Alphabet will finish no lower than second one year after placing a distant fourth.

ABC Entertainment prexy Susan Lyne took satisfaction that the network was able to launch anything at all this fall, given its ongoing slump.

“Remember this summer, when competitors were saying that it would be virtually impossible for us to launch a new season, that we’d sunk low enough in the ratings that we’d become the equivalent of a weblet?” she said. “This is a big victory for us.”

Of note, the net’s overall aud is up just 3% year-to-year but its gains are coming in the right demo groups: up 29% in kids, up 26% in teens, up 13% in adults 18-34 and up 8% in adults 18-49.

The net is competitive throughout the week, placing first or second in adults 18-49 on five of seven nights in the sweep.

“Our work is far from done, our turnaround far from complete,” Braun said. “It’s going to be a long road to get where we want to be.”

  • Fox’s Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday wins aside, the net is shaky on Monday and Friday and it has no real plans yet for Thursday.

It will finish the month second in adults 18-34 and has maintained the top slot among teens.

  • Key growth for the WB included adults 18-34, where the net is up year-to-year by 20%.

Through 26 nights, Frog ranks third among all nets in femmes 12-34 (ahead of Fox and CBS) and is beating CBS among viewers under 35.

  • At UPN, “Enterprise” declines are now most responsible for the net’s year-to-year dropoff, as Monday has improved and Thursday’s “WWE Smackdown” has stabilized somewhat.

“We’re exactly on track where we finished last season,” said UPN Entertainment president Dawn Ostroff. “What’s exciting about Monday night is we’ve created an environment, a destination. We also have created shows that are pretty young, so there’s a lot of room for growth.”

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