Net in front despite weak returns for Monday, Friday

HOLLYWOOD — Baseball’s most-watched postseason in eight years has put Fox in a much stronger position than a year ago at this time, but the net’s real work is only just beginning.

Last week, the final four games of the World Series powered the net to dominant victories in adults 18-49 (5.0/14), 25-54 (5.6/14) and 18-34 (4.3/14) as well as total viewers (14.3 million). Fox has assumed the season lead through five weeks in each category, according to Nielsen.

Still, early returns have not been encouraging for its Monday and Friday lineups, with drama “Skin” falling from its already weak debut on Monday of the current week (see below) and Friday comedy “Luis” becoming the first official cancellation of the season.

Fox had yet to roll out many of its key series this season, though, including Tuesday’s “24” (which bowed last night), Wednesday’s “The OC,” Thursday’s new “Tru Calling” and Sunday’s returning “The Simpsons” and “Malcolm in the Middle” and the critically acclaimed new laffer “Arrested Development.”

Fox is not the only net with key parts of its sked limping into the November sweep, which opens Thursday.

Both of Sunday’s new high-profile dramas — NBC’s “The Lyon’s Den” and the WB’s “Tarzan” — have been ratings disappointments, losing big chunks of their lead-ins. NBC’s “Coupling,” UPN’s “The Mullets” and CBS’ “The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.” have already been yanked for the month and may or may not return.

Other shows, including the WB’s drama “One Tree Hill” and NBC’s dramedy “Miss Match,” have rallied after weak starts and will be trying to find their footing during the first of the season’s three sweeps months.

Overall for the week of Oct. 20-26, CBS drama “CSI” reigned supreme in adults 18-49 (10.1/24) and 25-54 (12.6/27) as well as total viewers (27.57 million), where it edged out the previous week’s Game 7 of the Yankees-Red Sox series on Fox to become the season’s most-watched telecast.

Fox placed four World Series games among the week’s top 12 programs in 18-49, led by Saturday’s finale (7.6/25 in 18-49, 23.24 million viewers overall). This year’s Fall Classic outdrew two of the past three years, on the heels of two strong League Championship Series.

NBC placed second for the frame in both 18-49 (4.1/11) and 18-34 (3.5/11), led by its Thursday lineup, which hit season lows but still accounted for four of the week’s top 10 shows in 18-49, including No. 1 comedy “Friends” (9.1/25).

The Peacock also scored big with Katie Couric’s special interview with Elizabeth Smart on Friday, and first-year programs “Las Vegas,” “Whoopi,” “Happy Family” and “Miss Match” all looked solid. On the down side, Sunday legal hour “The Lyon’s Den” (season-low 2.9/8 in 18-49, 8.85m) fell to fourth for its 10 o’clock hour, behind CBS, ESPN and ABC.

CBS, third for the week in 18-49 (3.8/10) and edged out NBC for second in 25-54 (4.9/12), achieved a ratings milestone on Thursday when its firstrun regular lineup topped the Peacock’s among adults 18-49 for the first time on record (Daily Variety, Oct. 27).

The Eye also got boosts from football overruns on both Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday theatrical “What Women Want” became the top-rated movie of the season on any net in 18-49 (4.4/12).

ABC, fourth in 18-49 (3.5/10) and third in 18-34 (2.8/9), won Monday with a strong “Monday Night Football” game (7.3/20 in 18-49, 17.41m for Chiefs-Raiders) and again led from 8-10 on Friday among young adults with its “TGIF” comedy block.

Also, Wednesday’s “The Bachelor” and Sunday’s “America’s Funniest Home Videos” hit season highs, but Saturday drama “L.A. Dragnet” continues to struggle, hitting a season-low 1.3/4 in 18-49.

The WB again got the best of UPN in adults 18-34 for the week (1.9/6 vs. 1.5/5) although both were down about 20% from last year.

UPN’s Monday laffers “Girlfriends” and “Half & Half” defeated both Fox’s “Skin” and the WB’s “Everwood” among women 18-34, and a special repeat “Girlfriends” improved the net’s fortunes on Tuesday.

Frog’s Wednesday combo of “Smallville” and “Angel” achieved season highs and vet Sunday drama “Charmed” continues to shine, but lead-out rookie drama “Tarzan” fumbled away about half of that aud.

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On Monday of the current week, CBS led in 18-49 (5.4/14), 25-54 (6.5/15) and total viewers, even with “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “CSI: Miami” in repeat. Opening-hour comedies “Yes, Dear” (4.2/11 in 18-49, 12.17m) and “Still Standing” (5.2/13, 14.17m) both hit season highs.

Fox’s Monday lineup declined from its soft premiere one week earlier, remaining fourth in 18-49 (2.3/6). “The Next Joe Millionaire” (2.5/7 in 18-49, 9.52m) was off by 22% in the demo, and “Skin” (2.2/5, 5.08m) slid 19%.

“Millionaire” settled for less than half of what NBC’s “Fear Factor” generated at 8 (5.6/15 in 18-49, 13.13m) and even fell behind a repeat of the WB’s “7th Heaven” among femmes 12-34.

The “Radio Music Awards” gave NBC its best 18-49 showing from 9 to 11 on the night since premiere week (4.5/10) and led its timeslot among persons 12-34 (4.2/12).

ABC’s “Monday Night Football” was the night’s top draw among adults 18-34 (5.5/16) and key male demos.

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