Odd sweeps, same old winners
NBC retains 18-49 crown, nipping Fox; CBS again draws most viewers; ABC tanks big time
By Joe Schlosser -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/2/2001 7:00:00 PM
November was not your ordinary sweeps. Because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Fox ended up with three World Series games in the 28-day ratings period and later-than-planned starts of new series. CBS was able to air the twice-delayed Emmys awards. "This has been an odd start to the season and clearly an odd sweeps," says NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa.
But when the final numbers were tallied, it was the same two networks on top. NBC won its seventh consecutive sweeps title in adults 18-49, overcoming Fox's baseball-fueled fast start. And CBS again took top honors in households and total viewers, using a mix of specials and original programs. It was the third straight sweeps in which CBS won the total-viewers title.
UPN enjoyed success with new additions Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Enterprise, posting across-the-board gains over last November. The WB saw slight decreases with the loss of Buffy, but executives at the network claimed record advertising rates for the month.
The only network without any good story to tell was ABC. Network executives are trying to forget November, and they may want to consider skipping the entire 2001-02 season. The Disney-owned network saw double-digit decreases in nearly every ratings category, as new and veteran shows struggled nearly every night of the week. Even its game-show phenomenon, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, suffered (see box).
The six networks saw their total prime time share for the month sink 2% vs. November 2000, from 63.1 to 61.8.
NBC rode shows like ER, Friends and Law & Order to the adults 18-49 victory, averaging a 5.1 rating/13 share in the demo, according to Nielsen Media Research. Fox finished with a 5.0/13.
"So now we know, despite all of the dire predictions that this would be the end of NBC's great run, we are actually in a better and stronger competitive position than last year," said NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker. "It's the core schedule that defines a network, and that is the story of NBC this season and this sweep: Our returning shows have come back with tremendous strength."
While NBC was able to win the month, it was off 11% in adults 18-49 from last season and 7% in total viewers (12.9 million). Sassa and Zucker cited sluggish weekend ratings for bringing down NBC's overall numbers, but some advertisers and industry insiders are wondering how long NBC's reign at the top will last.
"We thought they would win, and we thought it would be close, but I think this is their last year on top," says Initiative Media's Tim Spengler. "I think NBC has been very focused on winning this year, which they are doing. But I'm not sure what their plan is for next year if they lose Friends. Thursday night will take on a different shape if they don't have a hit from 8 to 9. This development season is going to be their most important in at least five years."
From Michael Jackson's 30th-anniversary concert to a Carol Burnett highlight show, CBS garnered some of the month's highest ratings. It also enjoyed success with its Monday-night comedies and Tuesday dramas. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which in its second season, is becoming one of the top shows on TV. CBS was up everywhere for the month, including an impressive 18% gain in adults 18-49 and 13% in total viewers.
"All of you know our great success with specials, which we are very proud of, but the bedrock of our success is the strength of our core schedule and incredible depth of hit series," CBS President Leslie Moonves told reporters.
Helped in part by the World Series, Fox logged double-digit gains in both households (up 19%) and total viewers (up 20%). Fox also posted its best-ever results in a sweeps by falling narrowly to NBC in adults 18-49. Newcomers Bernie Mac, Undeclared and 24 have all showed strength, and the network has promising midseason shows waiting in the wings.
There are some trouble spots, though. Ally McBeal, The X-Files and Temptation Island 2 are going in the wrong direction, and new drama Pasadena is struggling. "Our real objective over the past two seasons has been to grow long-term assets and build a stable of quality shows that stay true to the Fox brand of unique, risk-taking programming," says Fox Entertainment Group President Sandy Grushow.
The tale of UPN's and The WB's sweeps results is almost as simple as who has Buffy the Vampire Slayer and who doesn't. Stealing Buffy away from The WB has proved to be a ratings coup for UPN, and The WB's numbers have dipped ever so slightly. Both posted good numbers in November, especially for the latest Star Trek series Enterprise at UPN and the Tuesday-night combination at The WB, Smallville and Gilmore Girls.
"Both The WB and UPN have established themselves as networks that are here to stay," says Initiative Media's Spengler. "There will be six networks going forward. It's not like one is going to fall off anymore. UPN is now solidly there, and The WB has some good shows."
And looking ahead to the February sweeps, CBS's Moonves wrapped up rival- network sentiments: "For February 2002, I'd like to congratulate NBC right now for their victory aided by the brilliant scheduling of two weeks of the Olympics."
|The sweeps race|
|Here's how the broadcast networks fared in the November sweeps (Nov. 1-28) vs. the comparable year-ago sweeps (Nov. 2-29, 2000), according to Nielsen.|
|Household ratings/share||% Chg.||Adults 18-49 ratings/share||% Chg.|
|Source: Nielsen Television Index
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