Competish blinks as Eye wins

CBS nabs 18-49 for first time since '80 while NBC slumps, Fox is hounded, ABC restarts

HOLLYWOOD — As Gil Grissom of “CSI” says, “The evidence doesn’t lie.” And in November, there was plenty of it to indicate that CBS is on a roll.

Powered by a third edition of forensics phenom “CSI” as well as a balanced portfolio of rising scripted and unscripted hits, the Eye lashed its rivals in the key ratings period — not only in total viewers but also among young adults.

That’s right, the net once derided by a competitor as the first stop for advertisers who want to sell Depends, is a powerhouse in adults 18-49.

According to Nielsen data for the Nov. 4-Dec. 1 sweep period, CBS averaged a 4.5 rating (or roughly 5.8 million viewers) in the demo that most closely correlates with advertiser revenue. ABC (4.0 rating, 5.2 million) and NBC (4.0 rating, 5.1 million) battled for second, with Fox well back in fourth (3.0 rating, 3.8 million).

And this should have the Eye sales department giddy heading into the new year.

“With this change (ascending to first in 18-49), definitely more money is coming to us,” CBS chairman Leslie Moonves says. “Also we’re getting the bulk of the scatter money. This will absolutely translate into dollars.”

Key to victory for CBS was its first Thursday night triumph in demos since 1984, as “CSI,” the amazingly durable “Survivor” and surging missing-persons drama “Without a Trace” helped the net easily defeat NBC on a night the Peacock once dominated.

NBC was just not the same this year, with spinoff “Joey” generating roughly half what “Friends” delivered in the Thursday leadoff spot, and the second edition of “The Apprentice” unable to match the scripted skein’s scorching numbers of last winter.

Moonves called the net’s across-the-board victory in November — its first such feat since the month Ronald Reagan was elected president — a “watershed moment” for the Eye, and “something many thought wasn’t possible for this network.

“Way back when I took this job (in 1995), I said there was no way CBS will ever win in 18-49,” Moonves points out. “It was something we didn’t even dream about.”

The net’s success in attracting the lucrative 18-49 aud won’t affect its programming strategy, though.

“Hits are hits, and the foundation of our success has been to program to all viewers,” Moonves adds. “We still believe we’re broadcasters at CBS, and it has worked.

“By programming to everyone, we’ve gotten 18- to 49-year-olds also.”

Also of note was the Eye’s improved perf in the 10 o’clock hour leading into the late local news. Net won the month for the hour in adults 25-54 and adults 18-49 — up more than 25% in both vs. last year.

This in turn has helped David Letterman’s “Late Show” pull closer to NBC’s “Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

Elsewhere for the month, the big news was ABC’s out-of-nowhere rise and NBC’s continued decline, as the former added two big hits (“Desperate Housewives” and “Lost”) and the latter none.

Fox, meanwhile, remains an altogether different network without “American Idol,” placing fourth for a third straight November.

Another trend to emerge from the month was the poor performance of hastily assembled, derivative unscripted programs such as Fox’s “Rebel Billionaire” and “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss” and NBC’s “$25 Million Hoax.”

At the same time, the cream rose to the top in the genre, with the Eye’s two-time Emmy-winning “The Amazing Race” launching in November with its best results yet — giving CBS one more weapon going forward as it looks to ride its November momentum to a season-long victory.

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