Close race sees 3 nets atop demos

Everyone's a winner in tight ratings season

Fox, NBC and CBS each claimed victory in key demo categories last week in one of the most competitive primetime frames of the season.

According to Nielsen national estimates for the week of May 5-11, all three nets were within one tick of each other in adults 18-49, with Fox and NBC tying for the lead (4.3/12) and CBS on their tail (4.2/12). ABC (3.3/9) was further off the pace and finished fourth for the week across the board.

The Eye net, more competitive than usual thanks to three hours of “Survivor” on Sunday, edged out NBC in adults 25-54 (5.1/13 to 5.0/13) and also won easily in total viewers (13.7 million), while Fox won outright in adults 18-34 (4.7/15).

Fox, NBC and CBS also are at the top of the sweeps races through Monday of the current week, which saw the Eye prevail behind a strong perf by “CSI: Miami” (see below).

NBC remains the sweeps leader in adults 18-49 with a 4.4 rating/12 share through Monday (down 19% in rating vs. a year ago), followed by Fox (3.9/11, up 8%); CBS (3.8/11, even); ABC (3.2/9, down 6%); the WB (1.8/5, even); and UPN (1.4/4, down 18%).

Fox leads in 18-34 and CBS in total viewers, with both expected to win the month easily by these measures.

While Fox and NBC battled to a draw among adults 18-49 last week, so did their top shows. Fox’s “American Idol” and NBC’s “ER” tied for the week’s top spot in 18-49 (10.4/27) — the highest rating for any program on any net since the Academy Awards on ABC in March.

Overall, the week’s top 10 included two episodes of “Idol,” two segs of “Friends” and three episodes of CBS’ “Survivor: Amazon,” including its two-hour finale. “Idol” rang up its best numbers since January.

Fox continued to use “Idol” effectively, as the shows that led out of it — “24” on Tuesday and “Bernie Mac” — also improved. “24” drew its largest aud since its season premiere (13.49m), while “Mac” bagged its best 18-49 score to date (6.5/16).

Net also scored a rare Friday victory with a repeat of “The Matrix” (3.5/12 in A18-49).

NBC had another strong Thursday behind “ER,” “Friends” (9.4/27) and “Will & Grace” (8.8/21), and it was above average on Monday with a two-hour “Fear Factor” (5.3/14).

CBS captured Sunday thanks to the two-hour finale of “Survivor” and its reunion show, which retained most of its lead-in. Although down 10% from the finale of its most recent edition in December, “Survivor” (8.9/22) dominated the night.

A new “Murder, She Wrote” movie, “The Celtic Riddle,” helped the net win Friday in total viewers for the first time this season, while “Everybody Loves Raymond” was the week’s most watched comedy overall.

At ABC, the season finales of dramas “The Practice” (3.4/8 in A18-49) and “Dragnet” (2.3/6) failed to wow audiences, but the net had a strong Wednesday behind “The Bachelor” (edition-high 6.6/16) and “Extreme Makeover” (4.7/11).

The Alphabet also led Tuesday at 10 with “NYPD Blue” (4.4/12 in A18-49) and did surprisingly well with a repeat of “The Green Mile” on Saturday (first-place 3.6/12 in 18-49).

The WB, boosted by the two-hour season finale of “Charmed,” remained comfortably ahead of UPN in their target 18-34 demo (2.3/7 vs. 1.5/5).

With three NBA playoff telecasts as the week’s top-rated programs, TNT was the easy primetime winner among basic cable nets in both adults 18-49 (1.4 national rating) and total viewers (3.3 million).

* * *

On Monday of the current week, CBS prevailed in adults 18-49 (5.2/14), paced by “CSI: Miami” (6.6/17, 17.23m), which easily led its hour. The Eye’s “Everybody Loves Raymond” (5.8/15) and “Still Standing” (5.0/12) also led their half-hours in 18-49.

“Standing” retained a strong 86% of its “Raymond” lead-in, compared to 74% for “Becker” on the same night a year ago.

NBC placed second in most key categories and first in adults 18-34, although the championship episode of “Fear Factor” (4.9/14 in A18-49, 11.04m) was surprisingly soft despite winning its hour in demos. From 9 to 11, net’s “Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Three’s Company” (4.5/11 in A18-49, 9.91m) did pretty well, ranking as the season’s No. 4 telepic in 18-49.

At Fox, a guest appearance by Whitney Houston failed to boost the season finale of “Boston Public” (3.4/10 in A18-49, 8.71m), which remained third for the hour. “Mr. Personality” (3.3/8 in A18-49, 7.03m) ran a distant third at 9.

ABC didn’t do much with its original movie, “Diary of Ellen Rimbauer” (2.7/7 in adults 18-49, 6.42m), leaving the net tied with the WB for fourth for the night in 18-49 and fifth in 18-34.

UPN’s comedy block delivered its best numbers since December, averaging a 1.9/5 in adults 18-34.

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