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‘Trace’ setting pace

Hot drama leads Eye web to big Thursday

CBS drama “Without a Trace” accomplished something Thursday that no series has done — top NBC medical heavyweight “ER” in one of Nielsen’s key demo categories.

Television’s top drama demo draw for its first decade on the air, and still the Peacock net’s No. 1 program in its 11th season, “ER” won its hour Thursday over “Without a Trace” in adults 18-49 (7.6/19 vs. 7.0/17) — remaining unbeaten against regular slot rivals with every firstrun episode since it bowed in 1994. But, for the first time, an original episode of “ER” failed to win its hour in adults 25-54.

According to Nielsen, fourth-year missing persons drama “Trace” narrowly prevailed over “ER” in the demo (8.4/19 vs. 8.3/19), a closely watched category in the 10 p.m. hour that leads into the late local news.

“Trace” had become the first series to top an original seg of “ER” in total viewers last September and has consistently done so since. On Thursday, it enjoyed its biggest margin yet: 21.37 million vs. 16.03 million.

Perf by “Trace” as well as dominant victories by “Survivor: Palau” (7.9/20 in 18-49, 21.64m) and “CSI” (9.8/23, 28.11m) helped CBS easily win the final Thursday of the month. That clinched the Eye’s first nonsports February sweep Thursday victory in 18-49 since at least 1987, with CBS winning two weeks, NBC one and the two splitting the other.

“Without a Trace” was up a perky 25% year-to-year in 18-49 (7.0 vs. 5.6) while “ER” declined by 27% (7.6 vs. 10.4) to a firstrun series low. “ER” didn’t get much help from its “The Apprentice” lead-in, as it too hit a series low (6.5/15 in 18-49, 14.15m).

ABC scared up viewers with a Peter Jennings spec “UFOs: Seeing Is Believing” from 8 to 10 (3.3/8 in 18-49, 11.62m) — the net’s second best Thursday perf in the time period this season (behind a Feb. 3 “Happy Days” spec). It beat Fox’s “The OC” (3.1/8 in 18-49, 7.23m) head-to-head in 18-49.

Friday saw a winning 8-10 p.m. perf from ABC with a special “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (prelim 3.0/9 in 18-49, 9.5m) and a victory at 10 for CBS’ “Numbers” (prelim 3.1/9 in 18-49, 11.3m) over NBC’s “Medical Investigation” (prelim 2.8/8, 8.3m).

Also of note was the best delivery since October for CBS’ “JAG” (prelim 2.3/7 in 18-49, 10.5m) and a nice showing at 8 for the WB’s “What I Like About You” (prelim 1.5/5, 3.2m). Featuring guest star Luke Perry reuniting with cast regular Jennie Garth, “Like” tied ABC for the slot lead in persons 12-34 (1.8/7).

On Saturday, ABC scored with “Forrest Gump” (3.2/10 in 18-49, 8.6 million), and Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted,” featuring a report on the capture of suspected Kansas serial killer “BTK,” stepped up with its best numbers in two years (3.4/10 in 18-49, 8.3 million).

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