Eye spies first-place demo prize

<B>Midseason TV report:</B> Net has not been as competitive in ratings categories since Reagan era

HOLLYWOOD — When it comes to the broadcast net with the most midseason momentum, it’s no contest: The Eye has it.

Riding the wave of a development season that produced four potent first-year performers, CBS is in very good shape — and both the Super Bowl and an all-star edition of “Survivor” are waiting in the wings to help juice its second-half ratings.

The heralded newbies, including Friday drama “Joan of Arcadia” and Monday comedy “Two and a Half Men,” have combined with a relatively young slate of returning hits and some savvy sked moves to make the Eye web this season’s biggest success story.

Not since the days of the first Reagan administration, in fact, has CBS been so competitive in the ratings categories that matter most.

Give the net credit for sticking to its gameplan of developing programs that work best for its aud. While it remains too reliant on viewers over 35, it is now so powerful in the older half of demos like 18-49 and 25-54 that it’s a bona fide player in both.

CBS is running away with the total-viewer race — these days, it’s a major upset if it doesn’t win a week with ease — and has shaved NBC’s edge in adults 18-49 to 11% from 15% this time a year ago. CBS has actually moved ahead of the Peacock by 4% in the 25-54 bracket after trailing a year ago, according to Nielsen.

It may not have enough to catch NBC in 18-49, the demo that most closely correlates to advertising revenue, but it’s closing in. Net’s also well on its way to its first outright 25-54 victory in 12 years.

WHAT SMOKED: It’s been another great year for the “CSI” franchise, with Thursday’s original the top-rated skein in adults 18-49, 25-54 and total viewers, and second-year “CSI: Miami” moving ahead of NBC’s “Law & Order” to rank as the No. 3 drama on television in key categories.

Two other Jerry Bruckheimer crime dramas, Thursday’s “Without a Trace” and Sunday’s new “Cold Case,” also are working well, with the latter to helping revive the net’s movie franchise on the night. With strong second-half titles like “Raising Waylon” and the two-parter “Reversible Errors” (based on the Scott Turow novel), the “CBS Sunday Movie” should show growth for the first time in five years.

“Joan of Arcadia” has given CBS its first Friday-at-8 hit since “The Dukes of Hazzard,” and “Two and a Half Men” is retaining most of its “Everybody Loves Raymond” lead-in. Tuesday’s “Navy NCIS” is a good alternative for older viewers at 8 and is competitive in 25-54.

The most unsung performer remains “King of Queens,” the former Monday laffer hit that has performed surprisingly well on Wednesdays at 9.

WHAT CHOKED: To the surprise of no one, downer drama “The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.” was an early casualty, but it has opened up a slot for newsmag “48 Hours.”

Friday’s “The Handler” also hasn’t cut it, but the bar was set so low last season with “Robbery Homicide” and “Queens Supreme” that the net opted to keep it for the duration of the season.

Saturday has been weak since “Walker, Texas Ranger” rode off into the sunset, and the net should return to a lineup of family fun and adventure. To that end, the upcoming return of “Star Search” is a step in the right direction.

LOOKING AHEAD: CBS has not fared well with midseason entries of late, and it’s unlikely that futuristic legal drama “Century City” (perhaps on Tuesday or Friday) or family laffer “The Stones” (Wednesday) will change that.

Also on the horizon is life without “Everybody Loves Raymond,” although here’s betting the Emmy-winning laffer opts to return for at least one more season.

Overall, as CBS prepares for next season and the likely addition of a third “CSI” skein (a vote for Chicago or Dallas or anything but New York), it can afford to be picky in what it adds to its sked.

Net should return more to its roots as the most broad of the broadcasters by welcoming more shows like “Joan of Arcadia” — which can appeal to anyone, anywhere.

Then, it might just be unstoppable.

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