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UPN upends Frog’s legs

Net tops WB in all key measures

HOLLYWOOD — UPN, in the midst of a rebound season, has wrapped its strongest February sweep in five years — topping rival the WB by all key measures and even challenging the majors in some categories.

Its combination of African-American comedies and male-skewed programming seemed immune to NBC’s Olympics onslaught.

NBC, of course, dominated the four-week sweeps period that ended Wednesday thanks in large part to the Salt Lake City Winter Games, but UPN and Super Bowl-boosted Fox also delivered year-to-year gains.

According to Nielsen, UPN was the No. 5-rated network for the Jan. 31-Feb. 27 sweep in total viewers, with its primetime average of 4.53 million a 20% year-to-year improvement.

It also ranked No. 5 in adults 18-49 (2.0/5) and 18-34 (2.0/6), No. 4 in men 18-34 (2.0/6) and teens (2.1/7) and No. 3 in both males 12-34 (2.1/7, tied with ABC) and male teens (2.4/8).

Best Feb. since expanding

Overall, it was UPN’s best February sweep in most categories since expanding to five nights in fall 1998.

The netlet, which has spiked in the ratings this season thanks to its new series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (Tuesday) and “Enterprise” (Wednesday) and growth for its Monday comedy block, showed year-to-year improvement on all five nights.

Thursday wrestling series “WWF Smackdown” enjoyed a resurgence as well, as Hulk Hogan’s return to the ring brought viewers back. And a strong batch of theatricals boosted Friday, with the Feb. 22 telecast of “Lethal Weapon 3” attracting the net’s largest aud ever on that day (4.43 million).

Closed on Sundays

One advantage UPN does enjoy over the WB is that it does not program on Sundays, the Frog’s weakest night. If you throw that night out and compare the weblets during common time, UPN’s advantages over its rival decrease to just a tick in adults 18-34 (2.0 vs. 1.9).

NBC, which won all 17 nights of the Winter Olympics, claimed an easy victory in adults 18-49 — topping second-place Fox by 62%. Net also enjoyed strong success with its core programs, including a Feb. 7 episode of “Will & Grace” featuring Matt Damon that set series records (25.3m, 13.6/31 in 18-49).

Peacock’s 8.9 rating for the month in 18-49 is the highest for any net in any sweeps month since CBS covered the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in February 1994. And in total viewers, its average aud of 24.2 million is its highest for a February sweep since 1989.

Net’s biggest advantage for the month came in women 25-54 (the primary Olympics demo), where it topped second-place Fox by 14 shares.

Fox started strong

Fox enjoyed the early sweeps lead thanks to the Super Bowl airing in February for the first time ever, but finished with only modest year-to-year gains (6% in adults 18-49 and 2% in 18-34).

Among adults 18-34, Fox ranked No. 1 or No. 2 on 24 of 28 days during the sweep, including an impressive 15 out of 17 nights opposite the Olympics. It also finished second in total viewers, ahead of both CBS and ABC.

February was a book to toss out the window for ABC and CBS, which went with lots of repeats opposite the Olympics and were down considerably across the board.

News was worst at the Alphabet, which started the month well with the conclusion of mini “Stephen King’s Rose Red” but couldn’t click with its strategy of action pics and comedies with original series segs sprinkled in. It was down 32% in adults 18-49 vs. last year and an astonishing 50% from February 2000, when “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” was at its peak.

CBS, without “Survivor” for the month and airing just a few original series segs opposite the Olympics, settled for third place in most key categories. It was down year-to-year by 25% in 18-49 and 26% in 25-54.

The WB continued to enjoy success with series like “7th Heaven,” “Gilmore Girls” and “Smallville” but felt the effects of the Olympics on its young femme aud, finishing down year-to-year by 11% in adults 18-34.

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