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Fox gamesmanship

Out-of-park baseball ratings lead network to first

HOLLYWOOD — A boffo week of baseball ratings, capped by a nice start to the World Series on Saturday, has lifted Fox to uncharted territory — first place.

When Nielsen issues season-to-date ratings on Tuesday, the Murdoch net is expected to have surpassed NBC in the industry’s most significant ratings category, adults 18-49. And the Fall Classic, although not the marquee matchup many were hoping for, could help Fox pad its advantage heading into the November sweep.

Fox should pull ahead through four weeks of the season with a 4.6 rating in adults 18-49, with NBC remaining at a 4.5, marking the first time in its 17-year history that Fox has been the outright leader during the television season (September-May). Net had shared first-place honors with NBC for two weeks after airing the Super Bowl in January 1999.

The strong start reps a big turnaround for Fox, which was in fourth place at this time a year ago, before riding “American Idol” and “Joe Millionaire” to winning ratings for the second half of the season.

On Saturday, Game 1 of the World Series between the Marlins and Yankees averaged a hearty 6.0 rating in adults 18-49 and 17.7 million viewers overall, according to time-zone-adjusted preliminary nationals from Nielsen.

The demo rating would mark a 20% improvement over last year’s 5.0 for Game 1 of the Anaheim Angels-San Francisco Giants series and the best in three years (Yankees-New York Mets), while the total-viewer count is the largest for Game 1 in four years (Yankees-Atlanta Braves).

It helped that the game was a nail-biter to the finish, as ratings grew throughout the evening and maxed out with roughly an 8 demo rating and 22.6 million viewers in its final half-hour.

Miami delivered a 36.6 rating/54 share in metered-market household overnights, and Gotham a 26.7/40.

Fox capped baseball’s League Championship Series on Thursday with huge numbers, as the New York Yankees’ 11-inning clinching victory delivered the best numbers for a game in this round (10.7/29 in adults 18-49, 27.49 million viewers overall) since 1991. Just one night earlier, the Cubs-Marlins closer had achieved the same feat (10.1/27 in 18-49, 26.51m).

The LCS round averaged 16.5 million viewers for its nine primetime games on Fox, a big 70% improvement over last year’s 9.7 million.

The strong Thursday lineups of NBC and CBS aired mostly in repeats, a late switch by the nets in deference to the strength of baseball. The Eye did air an original “Survivor,” which led entertainment programs from 8 to 9 (7.4/20 in 18-49, 19.35m).

On Friday, NBC’s “Miss Match” (prelim 2.7/8 in 18-49, 6.4 million) was up week-to-week and seems better fitted for its new 9 o’clock hour, while CBS dramas “JAG” (prelim 2.5/8 in 18-49, 12.1m) and “The Handler” (2.5/8, 9.0m) both looked a bit healthier after fading a week earlier opposite baseball competish.

CBS was the only net on Friday to show year-to-year improvement over the same week last season, topping the night in adults 25-54 and total viewers.

ABC, which led in 18-49, saw “Hope & Faith” deliver the No. 1 rating for entertainment programs among adults 18-49 for a fourth straight week, holding steady at a 3.6/12 and drawing 9.7 million viewers overall.

Overall, the net’s Friday “TGIF” comedy strategy is looking like a winner, with “George Lopez” (2.8/11), “Married to the Kellys” (2.9/10) and “Life With Bonnie” (3.1/10) all leading their time periods in prelim 18-49 results. “Kellys” hit a high in 18-34 (2.5/10), and “Bonnie” retained a best-yet 86% of its “Hope” 18-49 lead-in.

For all of its baseball pull, Fox is still struggling to get viewers to its new Friday lineup, which placed fourth.

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