Cubs, Red Sox bat big-league ratings

HOLLYWOOD — For the first time in years, the early rounds of baseball’s playoffs are a ratings force to be reckoned with, as Fox surged to the top of the weekly primetime standings and clearly put a hurt on its competitors.

With sentimental faves the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox making a deep run into the League Championship Series, the net hit one out of the ratings park for the Oct. 6-12 frame. Fox won four of its six baseball nights in adults 18-49, resulting in its first 18-49 victory of the season (4.7/13), ahead of NBC (4.3/12), CBS (3.6/10) and ABC (3.5/10, expected to round up to a 3.6 when Nielsen finalizes numbers later this week).

To show what a difference a year makes, note that Fox ran fourth in 18-49 during this sesh a year ago — with seven nights of baseball.

Net would have done even better if Sunday’s much-anticipated Game 4 of the Red Sox-New York Yankees series in primetime hadn’t been rained out. When it was made up on Monday of the current week, game scored big — sending ABC’s competing “Monday Night Football” to some of its lowest ratings ever (see below).

Fox also led the week in adults 18-34 and 25-54 as well as total viewers, with baseball’s Division Series round finishing up 23% year-to-year in overall audience and ranking as the net’s most-watched ever.

Broad auds

“Anytime a sports story moves beyond the sports page, you know you have a winner,” said Fox Sports TV Group chairman David Hill of the intriguing teams battling to win the pennant. “Latenight, morning shows, we’re crossing far beyond the hardcore baseball fan.

“Sports is the ultimate reality TV, where the outcome is uncertain and you never know if the guy in the white hat gets to kiss the horse.”

Baseball is certainly skewing similarly to reality shows these days, with Fox’s biggest year-to-year gains last week coming among adults 18-34. While the net was up 54% vs. the same frame last season (4.0/13 vs. 2.6/8), each of the other broadcasters was off by 14% or more.

“The biggest story is the demographic breakdown, which is destroying that myth that baseball has skewed older,” Fox Sports president Ed Goren said.

And, of course, baseball is providing a tremendous promotional launching pad for Fox’s new and returning entertainment series, which will be back after the World Series. The net figures to enter the November sweep on par or ahead of current season leader NBC in the lucrative 18-49 demo after struggling at this time a year ago.

“We’re pleased for our colleagues,” Goren added. “When the stars align like this, we can do a number of things, like helping our shows and taking eyeballs away from the other guys.’

“And with ‘The OC,’ ‘Skin’ and ‘Joe Millionaire’ ready to go, we feel we’re setting them up with a softball to bang out of the park.”

Faith in ‘Hope’

Elsewhere, no single new entertainment series has caught lightning in a bottle three weeks into the season, although ABC’s comedy “Hope & Faith” is perhaps coming closest, last week easily topping its nonbaseball rivals in the Friday-at-9 slot (3.7/11 in 18-49).

And others continue to look solid, performing well relative to their time periods and/or lead-ins: “Joan of Arcadia,” “Cold Case” and “Two and a Half Men” on CBS; “I’m With Her” on ABC; “Las Vegas” on NBC; “Eve” and “All About Us” on UPN; and “All About the Andersons” on the WB.

Among all programs, NBC’s “Friends” ranked No. 1 in adults 18-49 for a third straight week (10.3/28), while CBS drama “CSI” led the way again in total viewers (26.54m) and was the top drama in 18-49 (9.7/23).

For the Peacock, “Fear Factor” has another great perf (5.8/16 in 18-49, 13.29m) and is up 26% year-to-year through weeks, while lead-out “Las Vegas” ranks as the season’s No. 1 new drama in 18-49 (4.5/11).

Another new show, dramedy “Miss Match,” showed some spunk in its last-minute switch to 9 o’clock Friday. Comedy “Coupling” and drama “The Lyon’s Den” are performing just OK.

‘Joan’ thriving despite games

At CBS, “Joan of Arcadia,” despite facing baseball, led its 8 o’clock hour in 25-54 and total viewers for a third straight week, but the net’s “The Handler” fell to fourth in both 18-49 and 25-54 opposite tougher competish.

And while the Eye has closed the demo gap with NBC on Thursday (Daily Variety, Oct. 13), vet dramas on Tuesday and Saturday are sagging, contributing to the net’s year-to-year declines in the early going. Monday drama “CSI: Miami” looked strong, though, hitting a season high 6.8/17 in 18-49 (No. 3 drama for the week).

ABC saw “The Bachelor” (6.1/15 in 18-49, 12.86m) hit franchise-best levels for a third episode and “The Practice” deliver its best 18-49 score (slot-leading 4.4/11) since December. Also, ABC News is contributing nicely with mags “Primetime Live” on Thursday and “20/20″ on Friday — both up by double-digit percentages vs. last season.

And John Ritter’s final firstrun appearance on “8 Simple Rules” delivered a strong 7.1 rating/21 share in adults 18-49 — the best showing for a scripted ABC series in more than two years (season preem of “The Practice” in the fall of 2001).

UPN sees Monday laffer growth

UPN’s Monday comedy block again showed year-to-year growth, and “Lethal Weapon 3″ gave the net its best Friday 18-49 average (albeit a mere 1.1/3) since February. Also, new Wednesday drama “Jake 2.0″ again improved slightly week-to-week.

The WB took steps in the positive direction on Tuesday, where both “Gilmore Girls” and “One Tree Hill” achieved season highs, and on Wednesday, where the combo of “Smallville” and “Angel” was also up. Sunday’s “Charmed” continued its hot start to the season, winning the tough four-drama battle at 8 among adults 18-34 (2.7/9) and other femme demos.

It was a rather quiet week for basic cablers, with ESPN leading the way in both 18-49 and total viewers, paced by Sunday’s 49ers-Seahawks football game (3.9/10 in 18-49, 8.90m).

* * *

On Monday of the current week, Fox’s coverage of the Yankees-Red Sox baseball game was the top-rated program in 18-49 (6.4/17), getting the best of ABC’s “Monday Night Football” (5.0/13 for Rams-Falcons).

CBS stalwart “Everybody Loves Raymond” led its slot at 9 (5.9/14 in 18-49, 18.18m), and new comedy “Two and a Half Men” (5.0/12 in 18-49) retained a hearty 85% of that lead-in.

NBC’s “Las Vegas” held up well opposite baseball (4.5/10), and 10 o’clock’s “Third Watch” (3.9/10 in 18-49) closed the gap a bit with CBS’ potent “CSI: Miami” (6.2/15).

The WB’s “Everwood” hit a season high in 18-34 (2.2/6), while “Eve” led the way for UPN (2.6/8 in 18-34).

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