Peacock keeps Fri. Plumage

Web anchored by 'Law & Order: SVU'

HOLLYWOOD — For a second straight season, NBC is standing pat with its winning Friday lineup while its rivals are busy make wholesale changes.

And who can blame it? The Peacock’s Friday, anchored at 10 by “Law & Order: SVU,” enjoyed the biggest advantages for any net on any night last season — topping its closest competitor (ABC) by 50% in adults 18-49 and by 80% in total viewers, according to Nielsen.

Friday was by far the frailest weeknight for the nets, with the six broadcasters combining for a mere 45 share in adults 18-49. It was the weakest for both CBS and UPN and tied as the worst for ABC and Fox.

As a result, NBC’s stability aside, seven shows — the most on any night — will bow on Fridays this fall.

It’s not an especially impressive rookie bunch, but the WB’s comedy “What I Like About You” and the CBS drama “Hack” should serve their respective nets well.

Overall, look for NBC to stay on top, and ABC, CBS and the WB to make improvements.

Here’s a look at the night:

8 p.m.

NBC’s “Providence” again won the hour last season but faded down the stretch. It appears vulnerable this fall, but there’s nothing new that looks capable of topping it. In fact, the show most likely to challenge the lighthearted drama in adults 18-49 is ABC vet “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

Don’t be surprised to see NBC bump “Providence” for something new in this hour at midseason.

CBS’ “48 Hours,” the least-watched primetime newsmag each of the past three years, made the cut for a 15th season and kicks off the night. Show, which has been renamed “48 Hours Investigates” and is now hosted by Lesley Stahl, will focus largely on crime stories and should draw women 30-plus who’ve grown tired of “Providence.”

Big wild card in this hour is Fox’s new space Western “Firefly.” “Dark Angel” didn’t have much luck here last season, and the net may again find it difficult to attract young men on a Friday night.

The WB has a better plan in targeting young women, and seems poised for a strong showing among females 12-34 with new comedy “What I Like About You” (starring Amanda Bynes and Jennie Garth) followed by “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” in its new 8:30 timeslot.

Two-hour movies (think “Hot Boyz” and “The Glimmer Man”) should continue to keep UPN sixth in key demos. Net will likely try some series programming here sometime next year.

9 p.m.

None of the hour’s three new dramas — ABC’s “That Was Then,” CBS’ “Hack” and Fox’s “John Doe” — looks to have breakout potential, but “Hack” could do decent biz, connecting with the 35-plus women not glued to NBC’s “Dateline” as well as drawing some men.

“Hack,” which will have to overcome its downer title (it refers to a taxicab driver), should improve on what “First Monday” and “That’s Life” managed in the hour a year ago for CBS and could lift the net up to second, behind “Dateline.”

ABC’s “That Was Then” has an appealing premise (32-year-old man gets a chance to relive parts of his life) and should bolster the net’s 18-49 fortunes in the hour, while Fox’s who-am-I drama “John Doe” is appealing enough to win among men 18-34.

At the WB, new 9:30 family laffer “Greetings From Tucson” is a good fit with lead-in “Reba” and should cap a potent night for the Frog. Net’s block has the advantage of being the only comedies on the night.

10 p.m.

Heading into its fourth season, “Law & Order: SVU” has become a juggernaut at 10 for NBC. Last season, it was the only program to win its timeslot every week in adults 18-49.

CBS is challenging “SVU” with “Robbery Homicide Division,” another of its new crime dramas — this one an especially dark hour focusing on the seedy underworld of Los Angeles. Good luck.

The drama competition should help ABC’s “20/20,” which is coming off a subpar season but no longer has to face another newsmag. Look for Barbara Walters and Co. to bounce back.

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