May sweeps show ratings drop

'Grey's,' 'Betty' dip from prestrike levels

The broadcast nets appear to be paying the price for going months without fresh segs of their top shows, opening the May sweep Thursday with noticeable ratings declines.

ABC won Thursday in key demos even though “Ugly Betty” and “Grey’s Anatomy” posted season-low scores in their first episodes since January due to the writers strike. Night’s standouts were a pair of veteran island-adventure skeins — “Survivor” on CBS and “Lost” on ABC — both of which aired installments during the strike.

Overall, the major networks were down a collective 11% in adults 18-49 rating vs. the opening night of the May 2007 sweep (14.1 vs. 15.2), according to Nielsen. CBS and Fox were off by 15%, while ABC and NBC limited their losses to the high single digits.

CBS led in total viewers, winning each half-hour on the night.

Of course, there figures to be lots of DVR viewing on Thursday, and some of that tune-in doesn’t show up in the next-day ratings report. Nielsen’s sample of homes with DVRs stands at about 24%, compared with 15% at this time a year ago.

“Grey’s Anatomy” (6.5/16 in 18-49, 16.37m) posted its lowest firstrun scores since moving to Thursday in 2006, falling 23% vs. last year. Still, in demos, it easily beat CBS drama “CSI” (4.7/12, 17.02m), which itself declined 20% year to year and hit season lows.

“Grey’s Anatomy” was also off 8% vs. its most recent firstrun seg on Jan. 10 (7.1/17).

Opening the night, ABC’s “Ugly Betty” (2.5/7 in 18-49, 8.52m) placed second in its return to action, down 19% year to year. It was handily defeated by “Survivor” (4.3/13 in 18-49, 12.90m), which was down a bit vs. the same night a year ago but logged its best score since March and opened up a bigger advantage over its competish than on the same night in ’07.

You couldn’t blame ABC for keeping repeats of “Betty” and “Grey’s Anatomy” off its Thursday sked the last three months. But at the same time, the return of the shows likely caught some regular viewers off-guard.

Meanwhile, at NBC, the net’s 8-10 p.m. comedy block was down just 3% vs. the same night a year ago, even though leadoff hitter “My Name Is Earl” (2.4/7 in 18-49, 6.16m) tumbled by 25%. Airing in different slots than in 2007, “Scrubs” (2.5/7, 5.39m), “The Office” (4.0/10, 7.69m) and “30 Rock” (2.8/7, 5.52m) were all up vs. last year.

Fox ran fourth from 8 to 10 p.m. with two hours of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” (2.1/6 in 18-49, 8.33m at 8 p.m. and 2.5/6, 8.92m at 9 p.m.). Quizzer’s opening-hour perf was off a big 40% year to year (3.5/10 in 18-49), although its 9 o’clock delivery was an improvement for the net vs. 2007 (“Trading Spouses”).

At 10 p.m., ABC’s “Lost” (5.3/14 in 18-49, 12.08m) soundly defeated the demos of CBS competish “Without a Trace” (3.3/9, 13.47m) and “ER” (3.0/8, 7.53m). In its first episode in five weeks, “Lost,” which had been airing at 9 o’clock, logged its best scores since Feb. 21.

“Lost” perf repped a 29% improvement for ABC over “October Road” in the hour a year ago, while “Without a Trace” was down 13% vs. what “Shark” did in 2007, and “ER” declined vs. its own perf last year by 19%.

The 5.3 rating for “Lost” also reps the second-best delivery for a regular 10 o’clock drama this season — behind only the “Without a Trace” episode from November that wrapped up a crossover storyline with “CSI.”

CBS won each hour in Friday prelims with its drama lineup of “Ghost Whisperer” (2.3/9 in 18-49, 9.0 million), “Moonlight” (2.1/7, 8.0 million) and “Numbers” (2.2/7, 9.6 million).

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