'Bachelor,' 'Law & Order' help net dominate night

The 37th annual “CMA Awards” delivered its largest audience in seven years for CBS on Wednesday, helping the net wrap the opening week of the November sweep in a strong position.

CBS is running a solid second to NBC in adults 18-49, has taken the lead in adults 25-54 and is the runaway leader in total viewers, according to Nielsen. It’s also the only broadcaster to exhibit growth in any of these categories.

ABC is third in the key 18-49 race, with Fox seemingly headed for its second straight fourth-place finish in November after winning the February and May books earlier this year behind dominant reality series.

One-week sweep averages in adults 18-49: NBC (4.5/12, down 8% in rating vs. a year ago); CBS (4.1/11, down 5%); ABC (3.5/10, down 15%); Fox (3.1/8, down 18%); the WB (1.6/4, down 24%); UPN (1.5/4, down 12%).

In adults 25-54, it’s CBS (5.4/13, up 4%), with NBC second (5.1/13, down 7%).

CBS leads in overall audience (15.12 million).

On Wednesday, the “Country Music Assn. Awards” spiked to its best 18-49 score in three years (6.2/16), its best 25-54 delivery in five years (7.9/18) and its best total-viewer count in seven years (20.75m). It was the Eye’s best Wednesday 18-49 showing in three years.

Among the calendar year’s kudocasts, “CMAs” ranks third in overall audience behind only the Academy Awards on ABC (33.04 million) and the Grammy Awards on CBS (24.83m).

CBS dominated the night, prevailing in every half-hour in 18-49, 25-54 and total viewers opposite competition that included “The Bachelor” and “Law & Order.”

Boosting the ratings for “CMAs” were a special tribute to the late Johnny Cash (a posthumous winner in several categories) and a performance by Shania Twain — both in the second half of the kudocast. The 18-49 rating from 9:30 to 11 (6.5) was 10% higher than last year’s 5.9.

Elsewhere on the night, the top ratings were put up by “The Bachelor” from 9 to 10:04 (6.1/15 in adults 18-49, 13.49m, down a smidge from last week) and “Law & Order” (5.6/15 in 18-49, 16.38m, firstrun season lows).

In the night’s opening hour, ABC’s “My Wife and Kids” (4.0/11 in 18-49, 10.41m) moved ahead of Fox’s “That ’70s Show” (3.7/11 in 18-49, 7.69m), while the WB’s “Smallville” (2.7/8 in 18-49, 6.72m) led in persons 12-34 (3.6/12).

Fox was down from its premiere week, with “The OC” ranking fourth from 9 to 10 in adults 18-49 (3.5/9) and new comedy “A Minute With Stan Hooper” (2.5/7) fell to fifth.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more