Prez zaps sweeps

Primetime speech will roil network skeds

“The President Bush Show” has landed one of the best timeslots in all of television — much to the chagrin of the broadcast networks.

The White House announced Wednesday that Bush would speak to the nation tonight at 9 p.m., when he’s expected to declare the end of conflict in Iraq. But whether he knows it or not, Bush has now dropped himself into the middle of another war — this one fought with gratuitous guest appearances, outlandish specials, big-budget features and an arsenal of reality shows.

Bush’s speech comes just as the networks enter week two of May sweeps, probably the most competitive time of the year. And the Thursday 9 p.m. slot happens to be one of the most competitive timeslots in all of television (“CSI,” “Will & Grace”).

The networks will air Bush’s speech ad-free, or “sustaining,” which means will not count toward anyone’s sweeps tallies.

The speech couldn’t come at a worse time for CBS and NBC, which garner much of their competitive steam on Thursday nights. On the flip side, ABC and Fox — both of which are DOA on the night — were ecstatic over the scheduling.

Of course, someone in the White House is probably paying attention. After all, you couldn’t ask for a better lead-in than NBC’s “Friends” and CBS’ “Survivor.” Bush’s speech probably won’t have a lasting impact on the sweeps perfs of the Eye and Peacock — but it sure won’t help.

Through six nights of the four-week sweeps period, NBC maintained an advantage in adults 18-49 over Fox (4.5/13 vs. 3.9/11), although the Murdoch net is still projected to win the month. Race should be close down to the final night, though, when the two-hour finale of “American Idol” is expected to seal it for Fox.

It’s no race in the total-viewer category, with CBS well ahead of NBC (13.5 million to 11 million). The Eye took the lead three nights into the sweep and won’t likely relinquish it the rest of the way.

The scheduling of the President’s speech left execs at the major webs scrambling at the last minute to tinker tonight’s schedule. Tonight’s NBC lineup is the most erratic: a new “Friends” will air from 8 p.m. to 8:40 p.m., followed by a repeat “Friends” from 8:40 to 9 p.m. After Bush finishes at 9:20 p.m., NBC will go back to the rest of that repeat “Friends,” from 9:20 to 9:34.

After that, “Will & Grace” will run from 9:34 p.m. to 10:12 p.m., followed by “ER.” On the West Coast, things get even more confusing, with the new and repeat “Friends” segs followed by “Will & Grace” from 9:14 p.m. to 9:52 p.m. and a “Scrubs” special — originally a 15-minute clip show — has been reduced to all of eight minutes, from 9:52 p.m. to 10 p.m.

CBS, meanwhile, will simply push back “CSI” and “Without a Trace.”

Ratings so far

As for Tuesday’s sweeps race, stepped-up sweeps competish didn’t slow down Fox’s strong lineup, as both “American Idol” and “24” easily led their hours in the key young-adult demos.

ABC and the WB also showed year-to-year growth on the night, while Dr. Phil gave a boost to NBC’s “Frasier,” although the vet laffer remains well below last year’s levels.

According to Nielsen, Fox cruised to victory in adults 18-49 on the May sweep’s opening Tuesday (7.7/21), more than doubling the score of runner-up ABC (3.5/9). Net also led easily in 25-54, 18-34 and total viewers.

“American Idol” (9.7/27 in adults 18-49, 20.37 million viewers overall) again topped its combined major-net competish from 8 to 9 and was up a tick week-to-week despite facing original competish on the other five broadcast nets. At 9, “24” (5.8/15 in A18-49, 12.05m) scored a decisive demo victory and was up 38% year-to-year vs. its May 2002 average.

ABC, up 17% vs. the opening Tuesday last year (series finales of “Dharma & Greg” and “Spin City”), was led by “NYPD Blue” (4.4/12 in A18-49, 11.42m), which led at 10 in the demo. The WB improved by 10% in adults 18-34 year-to-year, as both “Gilmore Girls” (2.6/8) and “Smallville” (4.0/11) placed second to Fox in their hours.

NBC was led by “Frasier” (4.2/11 in A18-49, 11.08m), which placed second to “24” in 18-49 but was down 26% year-to-year. From 10 to 11, Matt Lauer’s chat with Madonna led “Dateline” to a second-place 18-49 finish (4.1/11) and a victory in 18-34 (3.8/12).

At CBS, both “Judging Amy” (3.8/10 in A18-49, 13.15m) and “JAG” (2.6/7 in A18-49, 13.63m) placed second among adults 25-54. At 9, “The Guardian” tied with “24” for the hour’s lead in total viewers (12.05m) despite a fifth-place 18-49 finish 18-49 (2.7/7).

UPN’s “Platinum” (1.2/3 in adults 18-34) was up slightly week-to-week, retaining 71% of its “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” lead-in. Although net promos dub it as “the hottest show on television,” the hip-hop drama came in 25% below what “Roswell” delivered in the hour a year ago (1.6/4).

Cabler TNT was a factor on the night, as its Lakers-Timberwolves NBA playoff contest (4.60m) grabbed a 12 share in men 18-34.

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