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November Sweeps Limp to Close

11/30/2003 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman said it best when she kicked off Fox's sweeps call to reporters last week by congratulating CBS on its November sweeps performance and then musing, "For the rest of the networks, the last four weeks haven't been quite as pleasant."

CBS rolled to its best sweeps performance in more than 20 years in some categories. It is the only network to finish up year-to-year in any category, from households to viewers to adults 25-54 to adults 18-49. CBS logged its first adults 25-54 victory in a November sweeps since 1980 and also won viewers by its largest margin since 1980. It took second in adults 18-49 for the first time since 1983 and finished in its most competitive position in that demo—only 0.3 rating point off NBC's first-place finish—since 1983. The Andy Griffith Show Reunion
delivered 21.6 million viewers to become the network's most-watched entertainment program in the Tuesday 8 p.m. time slot since 1995.

Several of the networks groused about the strangeness of Nielsen's numbers this year, and WB co-CEO Jordan Levin pointed out that, with younger viewers way down (through either audience erosion or an error in Nielsen's rating sample), it's the younger-skewing networks that get hurt, while older-skewing CBS fares better. What's more, CBS did all that while aging more than a year: Its median age increased to 53.3 years, from 51.2 during the year-ago sweeps. The WB, broadcast's youngest network, is down 17% in both its key demos, adults 18-34 and persons 12-34.

However, second-oldest network NBC also is down a significant amount in its key demos, dropping 13% in adults 18-49 and 13% in adults 25-54. And younger-skewing UPN is flat year-to-year in adults 18-34 and persons 12-34, with the Vibe Awards boosting UPN schedule in November's final days.

Here's a thumbnail sketch of the ups and downs at the broadcast networks:

CBS

Bright spot:
It's so bright around CBS these days, Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves is wearing shades. Where there were problems (the canceled Michael Jackson special, The Reagans
fiasco), CSI
and its sibling filled the gaps. What's to complain about?

Dark spot:
During Moonves's sweeps calls, all reporters really wanted to talk about was The Reagans, no matter how hard he tried to put the kibosh on that line of questioning. Would he have canceled the miniseries regardless of Republican opposition? Yes, he said, definitely.

NBC

Bright spot:
NBC took back its 18-49 sweeps crown after losing in February and May to Fox, Joe Millionaire
and American Idol. The return to victory might be short-lived given American Idol's return in January, but NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker says he prefers to live in the moment. Maybe that's because the future's too scary to face.

Dark spot:
NBC is still down 13% year-to-year in adults 18-49. With no high-rated reality show, huge sporting event or awards ceremony in its future, NBC is No. 1 but walking uphill.

ABC

Bright spot:
After spending the past two years rebuilding the network, ABC ends the November sweeps in surprisingly solid shape. The network got good numbers from The Bachelor
finale, and all three of ABC's Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday comedy blocks are leading their time periods in adults 18-49.

Dark spot:
It's one with a silver lining: Thursday night is still very low-rated, but it's the fastest-growing of any network, and it's up 43% among adults 18-49. Wednesday at 10 p.m. needs fixing with Karen Sisco
going on hiatus, but CBS is having the same problem against NBC's Law & Order. Saturdays at 10 p.m. are also slow, with L.A. Dragnet
going off the air, but who watches TV on Saturdays at 10 anyway?

FOX

Bright spot:
Hmmmm. Did we mention that American Idol
is coming back in January? Oh, and The O.C.
is this year's addictive new hit.

Dark spot:
Joe Millionaire 2
is a black hole that, as a lead-in, took down Skin
and isn't helping 24
at all.

THE WB

Bright spot:
Like Charmed's witches, WB executives are wishing they could create a time portal and go back to last year when Smallville
was going gangbusters and Sunday through Wednesday was clicking. However, network vets Charmed
and 7th Heaven
continue to hold up, while, after a slow start, One Tree Hill
is suddenly the new hot teen show.

Dark spot:
The WB is down 17% in persons 12-34 and adults 18-34 and 20% in adults 18-49.

UPN

Bright spot:
Monday night in general, especially bright new star Eve. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's All of Us, especially when Will makes guest appearances. Network staples Enterprise
and WWE Smackdown!
are starting to pick up from slow starts.

Dark spot:
Tuesday and Wednesday at 9 p.m. could each use a ratings boost, although the return of America's Next Top Model
on Tuesday in January should help.

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