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CBS’ November to remember

Eye lashes rivals in demos

In what Leslie Moonves called a “watershed moment” for his network, CBS has scaled to the top of Demo Mountain, sweeping November in all key ratings categories.

The Eye remains the oldest-skewing of the networks, but its big-tent strategy of delivering programs that attract viewers of all ages — and in both red and blue states — has worked to perfection so far this fall, including the four-week sweep period that will wrap tonight.

Net has been pacing well ahead of its rivals for a couple of years in total viewers, but started making a demo push last season when it eked out a victory in adults 25-54 while placing third in adults 18-49.

Now it has become the net to beat in 18-49, the demographic that most closely correlates to advertising revenue.

Three of a kind

With two nights left to be tabulated, CBS is projected to finish the sweep in first place in adults 18-49 (4.5 rating), adults 25-54 (5.5 rating) and total viewers (14.3 million) — its first such trifecta since 1980.

Net was clearly powered by three editions of the “CSI” franchise (including the Thursday original, which drew its largest audience yet during the month). But CBS also has what Moonves describes as a “balanced portfolio.”

Other crime dramas such as “Without a Trace,” “Cold Case” and “NCIS” are on the rise; “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Two and a Half Men” make for the most popular hour of comedy on television; reality franchises like “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” are thriving; and “60 Minutes” is the top-rated newsmag.

Also contributing nicely during November were two-part disaster pic “Category 6: Day of Destruction” and the annual “Country Music Assn. Awards.”

By the numbers

Add it all up and you can understand why Moonves was so upbeat Tuesday in reeling off the net’s numerous accomplishments during a conference call with reporters.

“CBS is at the doorstep of a watershed moment,” he said. “We’re about to accomplish something many thought wasn’t possible for this network.”

Moonves proceeded to quote a number of execs — including NBC’s Randy Falco and former Peacock West Coast topper Don Ohlmeyer — who had dismissed the Eye’s demo chances in the past. But even the confident CBS topper admitted that he long ago thought the feat would be impossible.

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

Staying course

The net’s success in the demo won’t affect its programming strategy, though.

“Hits are hits, and the foundation of our success has been to program to all viewers,” Moonves said. “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.”

That will make the Eye sales department very happy.

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

For CBS, other highlights for the month include winning Thursday in 18-49 for the first time since 1984, and winning the month by the largest margin in total viewers (roughly 3.5 million) for any net since 1987.

Newsworthy event

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

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

The race for second in primetime, meanwhile, is headed for a photo finish between ABC and NBC.

Alphabet, which like CBS is ahead of its year-ago sweep perf, held a slight lead through Monday (4.0 rating to 3.9), with a tie at 4.0 still the most likely scenario. Peacock, down about 10% vs. last year, could still round down to a 3.9 if it comes in below projections over the final two nights.

Each adults 18-49 ratings point reps roughly 1.30 million viewers, while each 25-54 ratings point equals roughly 1.22 million viewers.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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