‘ER’ to Peacock’s aid

Drama caps strong Thursday to start sweep

The “ER” docs can still clean up.

Now in its ninth season, the medical drama has lost a step or two, but on Thursday it turned in an impressive performance as NBC sprinted out to an early ratings lead in the May sweep.

NBC also claimed Friday among young-adult auds behind “Law & Order: SVU” while ABC won in all key demos Saturday with its sixth airing of “Forrest Gump.” Fox, which is expected to win the month in adults 18-49, started the four-week ratings period slowly but will kick into gear on Tuesday and Wednesday with “American Idol.”

On Thursday, NBC withstood Fox’s “Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies” and ABC’s “Primetime” interview with the Dixie Chicks to record a convincing victory over CBS’ second-place regular lineup in adults 18-49 (9.7/25 to 6.6/17).

“ER,” which has fallen behind CBS drama “CSI” as the season-to-date drama leader in adults 18-49, closed out Thursday with a big 10.1/26 in the demo — topping the combined scores of “Primetime” (5.2/13) and CBS’ “Without a Trace” (4.3/11).

It was the No. 1 program of the night in the demo and will rank as the top-rated show of the week for the first time since December.

NBC also received strong perfs from an original “Friends” (9.9/30 in A18-49, 20.71m), a repeat “Friends” (9.8/26 in A18-49, 20.25m) and a new “Will & Grace” (9.3/23, 17.71m) that featured Madonna as a guest star. “Will” was up 16% year-to-year.

Fox’s “Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies” settled for a fourth-place 3.2/9 in adults 18-49 — above the net’s weak Thursday average this season but down nearly 50% from its February Jackson spec (6.1/14).

The WB’s “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” ended its run with the second of two back-to-back episodes that notched a 1.2/3 in adults 18-49, sending ABC’s weak “All-American Girl” to a sixth-place at 8:30 (1.0/3).

At 10, Diane Sawyer’s chat with the Dixie Chicks interview scored big in markets like Nashville (18.0/25 metered-market household rating) and Houston (16.7/20), taking a toll on the Eye’s “Without a Trace,” which hit a firstrun season low in 18-49 — retaining less than half of its “CSI” lead-in.

“CSI” again dominated its hour in total viewers (25.22m) and adults 25-54 (11.0/25) — the top shows of the night and week in both categories. In adults 18-49, its 9.0/22 was up 8% year-to-year despite a 17% falloff for lead-in “Survivor” (6.5/19, 18.09m).

According to prelim nationals for Friday, NBC prevailed, despite a fourth-place 18-49 finish at 8 from “America’s Most Talented Kid” (2.1/7, down 25% week-to-week) and only so-so scores for “Dateline’s” interview with President Bush (second-place 2.6/8 in A18-49, 8.8 million viewers overall).

“Law & Order: SVU” (5.0/16 in A18-49, 13.4m) bailed out the Peacock, virtually matching its combined ABC-CBS competish in 18-49.

Fox’s Friday dramas “Fastlane” (third-place 2.2/8 in A18-49) and “John Doe” (third-place 2.3/7) failed to distinguish themselves with their season finales, although both let their hours in adults 18-34.

ABC did pretty well Friday with “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” winning both at 8 (2.7/10) and 9 (3.0/10) in 18-49 and total viewers.

On Saturday, the Alphabet took the night in adults 18-49 (2.9/10) and other key demos with “Forrest,” which built to a 3.6/11 at 10:30 and gave the net its highest-rated Saturday movie since November (“Saving Private Ryan”).

CBS won the night in total viewers, as the first of a two-part series finale for “Touched by an Angel” led at 8 in both adults 25-54 (2.6/9) and overall audience (8.4 million). It defeated its drama competish in the hour, NBC’s “Hunter,” by 81% in adults 18-49 (2.0/8 vs. 1.1/4).

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