Eye net survives prez power play

CBS sweeps to early lead

CBS opened the May sweep with a winning perf on an atypical Thursday that saw the top-rated dramas and reality shows of the Eye and Peacock webs go head-to-head in much of the country.

President Bush’s hastily skedded Thursday evening press conference resulted in the time-shifting of CBS programs and the preemption of others, including Fox’s “The OC” and NBC’s “Joey” and “Will & Grace.” When the dust settled, the Eye had it over the Peacock, with “Survivor: Palau” toppling “The Apprentice 3” and “CSI” besting “ER.”

As the weekend kicked off, CBS scored Friday with the series finale of “JAG” and ABC rocked with an edition of “20/20” devoted to the struggles of child stars. Fox then led as usual on Saturday with a “Cops” marathon.

On Thursday, President Bush’s news conference drew an estimated 32.7 million viewers on eight broadcast and cable networks, according to Nielsen, repping a 38 share of the viewing audience.

CBS, NBC and Fox shifted to entertainment programming at 9 — cutting off the final moments of Bush — while ABC stuck with the address and analysis until 9:30.

At 9, in the first head-to-head matchup between Mark Burnett’s popular unscripted programs, CBS’ “Survivor: Palau” (7.8/20 in 18-49, 21.21m) beat NBC’s “The Apprentice 3” (5.5/14, 12.42m) across the board. (“Survivor” aired in its regular 8 o’clock slot in the West.)

And at 10, the heavyweight drama battle went to CBS’ “CSI” (8.3/21 in 18-49, 23.68m) over NBC’s “ER” (6.6/17, 14.52m). Direct competition took a toll on both, with “CSI” hitting a firstrun season low in 18-49 and “ER” logging its second lowest. (“CSI” aired in its regular 9 o’clock slot in the West).

Also of note Thursday was significant improvement for the WB, which turned the night over to blue-collar comics. “Blue Collar TV” (1.6/5 in 18-49, 3.94m) and specs “The Ron White Show” (1.6/5 in 18-49, 3.99m) and “Mobile Home Disaster” (1.5/4 in 18-49, 3.51m), hosted by Bill Engvall, gave the Frog its highest-rated Thursday of the season in 18-49 (1.6/4) and its second highest in 18-34 (1.3/4).

For the night, the WB was up vs. the opening night of the 2004 May sweep by 44% in adults 18-34 and 100% in adults 18-49.

On Friday, the season finale of 10-year military drama “JAG” (prelim 2.9/9 in 18-49, 13.7 million viewers overall) was up about 50% from its season average, winning the 9 o’clock hour for CBS. It was the best delivery for “JAG” in 19 months.

ABC pulled even with CBS for the night in 18-49, though, with a strong showing at 10 for “20/20” (prelim 3.5/11 in 18-49, 9.5 million), which logged its best 18-49 average since September’s season premiere. It prevailed in demos over CBS’ “Numbers” (prelim 2.9/9 in 18-49, 10.7 million) and NBC’s “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” (prelim 2.5/8 in 18-49, 9.3 million), the latter of which posted its lowest scores to date.

Fox was the only net to do anything Saturday, with a NASCAR overrun in the most of the country leading into three episodes of “Cops” that averaged a prelim 2.8/9 in 18-49 and 6.7 million viewers overall.

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