''70s Show,' 'Bernie' also help net keep win adult auds

HOLLYWOOD — Fox on Wednesday closed out the opening week of the February sweep with its fifth straight nightly victory and has inched ahead of NBC in the hotly contested adults 18-49 race. The WB, meanwhile, is enjoying the biggest year-to-year gains of any network.

According to Nielsen, Fox posted its latest conquest behind slot-winning perfs from “That ’70s Show” at 8 (6.2/17 in adults 18-49) and the live “American Idol” at 8:30 (9.4/23, 19.27 million viewers overall). This helped “Bernie Mac” to season-high numbers in its new 9 o’clock timeslot (a second-place 5.5/13 in 18-49).

At 9:30, “Cedric the Entertainer” (4.2/10 in 18-49) fell to third but grabbed best-since-preem scores.

NBC, ABC on the trail

Through seven nights of the four-week sweep, Fox leads in adults 18-49 with a 5.2 rating/13 share, followed by NBC (5.1/13), ABC (3.7/10), CBS (3.6/9), the WB (2.1/6) and UPN (1.5/4). Fox also leads in adults 18-34, while NBC is on top in adults 25-54 and is a smidge ahead of CBS in total viewers.

Year-to-year comparisons for all networks are skewed by Fox airing the Super Bowl on the first Sunday last February, but the WB is the month’s biggest gainer. Frog, powered especially by significant gains on Sunday and Tuesday, has surged by 39% in adults 18-34 and has moved up to fourth for the sweep in this demo (2.5/7) as well as women 18-34 (3.1/8).

Elsewhere on Wednesday, ABC was a strong second behind “The Bachelorette” (8.2/19 in 18-49, 17.28m), which dominated the 9 p.m. hour, and “Celebrity Mole Hawaii” (5.3/14, 10.62m), which placed second in most categories and remained on top in adults 18-34 (5.0/15).

‘Bachelorette’ up 26%

“Bachelorette” was up 26% week-to-week, coming off two episodes that aired directly opposite Fox’s “Idol.”

NBC had its weakest firstrun Wednesday in a while, as both “Ed” (3.0/8) and the fading “West Wing” (4.3/10) hit season lows. “Law & Order” picked things up at 10 (6.6/17 in A18-49, 18.33m).

CBS ran fourth across the board but kept the lights on at 8 with a special “Price is Right” that finished third in 18-49 (3.2/8) and second in total viewers (12.84m). At 9, “60 Minutes II” could do no better than fourth in adults 25-54 (3.5/8) and third in total viewers (11.43m) despite a lineup that included interviews with Saddam Hussein, Colin Powell and Ted Turner.

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