Peacock picks itself up as ABC lags last

HOLLYWOOD — After a one-year hiccup, NBC reclaimed its status as the No. 1 primetime network among young adults during the February sweep.

The Peacock (4.8 rating) easily defeated a declining Fox and a steady CBS (tied at 4.2) in the key 18-49 demo, with ABC well behind in fourth (3.7), according to Nielsen, despite carrying the Oscars.

CBS, solid in demos and dominant among older viewers, again drew the most viewers overall during the four-week ratings period (14 million).

Notes and quotes from the nets:

NBC – “It was supposed to be a close race, but it never was,” Peacock topper Jeff Zucker said, referring to the 18-49 battle prognosticators had expected to be closely waged between NBC and Fox. One year ago, Fox beat NBC by a big 19% for its first-ever sweeps victory in 18-49.

Igniting NBC was hot unscripted skein “The Apprentice,” which improved upon the net’s already-strong Thursday-at-9 perf last November by 33% (9.6 vs. 7.2). Overall, NBC won all four Thursdays in 18-49 and was up vs. last February.

” ‘The Apprentice’ was a huge game-changer for us, and it sets us up well for the rest of the season,” Zucker said.

CBS – The Eye could crow about its most competitive demo finish in a February sweep (excluding Olympics years) since 1993. Net finished just a tick behind NBC in adults 25-54 after lagging by four-tenths a year ago.

“On the heels of an historic November, this was one of the best February sweeps CBS has seen in a decade,” CBS topper Leslie Moonves said.

Eye highlights included its strong rookie class, with “Two and a Half Men,” “Joan of Arcadia,” “Cold Case” and “Navy NCIS” all delivering.

Also, sophomore “Without a Trace” hit series highs and Thursday’s “CSI” and Monday’s “CSI: Miami” were the month’s Nos. 2 and 3 dramas in 18-49, behind “ER.”

Fox – One year after the combo of “Joe Millionaire” and “American Idol” powered its first sweeps victory in 18-49, net settled for a second-place tie with CBS this time around, down 26% year-to-year. It did edge out NBC to win in adults 18-34, though.

“American Idol” was bigger than ever and limited-run series “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance” provided a big spark on Mondays, but the net couldn’t approach its numbers from last year, when “Joe” came out of nowhere to emerged as the season’s No. 1 program in key demos.

Less than one-third of Fox’s sweeps sked was firstrun scripted series, but the net will be adding the promising pair of comedy “Cracking Up” and drama “Wonderfalls” over the next week.

ABC – It was a weak month for the Alphabet, which was down about 8% despite airing the Academy Awards in February for the first time.

Return of quizzer “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (now “Super Millionaire”) helped boost every slot in which it aired, but was indicative of the net’s singles and doubles performance in recent years while its competitors were belting homers.

UPN – Powered by dynamo reality skein “America’s Next Top Model,” UPN finished as the only net to exhibit across-the-board growth vs. a year ago.

Net was tied with the WB in adults 18-34 with one night to be counted (1.8/5), a 13% improvement vs. 2003.

“We’ve dramatically narrowed the gap with the WB,” UPN entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff said.

The WB – With key dramas dragging and lacking a real boost from a reality skein, the Frog was down about 20% year-to-year in target demos.

One good sign: Rookie Tuesday drama “One Tree Hill” established series highs during the sweep.

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