CBS hits demo goals as WB, Fox stumble

HOLLYWOOD — For the first time in the Must-See TV era, the closest object in NBC’s rear-view mirror is CBS.

Amid an overall downer of a November sweep for the broadcast networks, the Eye web is bucking the trend — posting year-to-year gains while its rivals slide.

According to Nielsen, CBS was within a couple of ticks of first-place NBC among adults 18-49 heading into the month’s final week, and was on top in adults 25-54, where it looks to hold off NBC for its first November sweep victory in its target demo since such records were initially kept in 1987.

While NBC is expected to prevail for November in 18-49 for a fourth straight year, it’s down double-digit percentages while CBS is up slightly compared to last year.

ABC has locked up third place but is down and Fox, with some significant holes on its sked to address, will place fourth for a second straight year. Overall, look for the six broadcast webs to come in a shaky 9%-10% below its year-ago pace in 18-49.

Here’s a look at each net:

CBS

Aside from the controversy over “The Reagans,” most everything went right for the Eye, including strong turnouts for specs like the “Country Music Assn. Awards” (largest aud since 1996) and an “The Andy Griffith Show Reunion,” which drew 21 million viewers.

The “CSI” franchise is red hot, with the original emerging as the top-rated drama on television in 18-49, and the No. 1 series overall in both 25-54 and total viewers. And on Monday, “CSI: Miami” is ruling its competitive hour.

NBC

Tentpole vets like “Frasier,” “West Wing,” “Friends” and “ER” are all down sharply vs. last November, overshadowing some improvements the net has made on Monday (“Las Vegas” and “Average Joe” are hits) and Tuesday (“Whoopi” is doing fine and “Law & Order: SVU” has anchored things).

On the down side, “The Lyon’s Den” and “Miss Match” have disappointed, although the latter looks a bit better in its later Friday timeslot. And net has already divorced itself from sexy sitcom “Coupling.”

Overall, NBC should finish about 12% behind last year’s first-place in the 18-49 demo.

ABC

Net has laid a stronger foundation with comedies but remains behind last year’s averages, when its Sunday combo of “Alias” and “The Practice” rated higher and Wednesday reality skein “The Bachelor” was hotter.

One of the keys for ABC is Tuesday comedy “8 Simple Rules,” whose lead actor John Ritter passed away in September. First few episodes without him have done well, but the show’s long-term potential should become more apparent in the next couple of months.

The Friday “TGIF” lineup is solid but unspectacular, led by “Hope & Faith,” while Wednesday drama “Karen Sisco” has gone on hiatus. The axing of “L.A. Dragnet” in favor of “Funniest Home Videos” was a stop-gap sweep measure, but the net’s Saturday movies could do better too.

Like NBC, the Alphabet should finish down vs. last year by about 12% in 18-49.

Fox

Summer hit “The OC” has performed well in its fall outings, but not much of the net’s new fare has clicked with auds, including critical fave comedy “Arrested Development.”

This leaves holes on the sked that will only be partly addressed by the January return of “American Idol.”

Considering how poorly the net fared last November, another 10% decline is a surprise.

The WB

Frog net hasn’t been hopping as in recent sweep months, as new drama “Tarzan” has struggled (and will exit the sked soon) and vets like “7th Heaven” and “Gilmore Girls” have declined by more than 20% each.

In some of its target demos, the WB could finish down 15-20% for the month.

Keys for the future are second-year drama “Everwood,” a critical fave that has slipped some this year, and “One Tree Hill,” a first-year sudser that opened very meekly but has shown some spunk since.

UPN

The net’s year-to-year declines have improved from earlier in the season, with stronger movies on Friday and improved “WWE Smackdown” wrestling numbers on Thursday making for a decent sweep.

Monday’s comedies are working and Tuesday is on the mend, leaving Wednesday with the biggest problems to address, including a sagging “Enterprise.”

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