CBS Claims November Landslide

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CBS declared a landslide victory in this month’s sweeps race even though the polls don’t officially close until Wednesday night.

The network says it’s poised to post its first November sweeps victory since 1980 among 18-49s. It projects that it will end the sweeps season with a 4.5 rating in that key demographic. It estimates that NBC and ABC are about neck and neck with a 4.0, and Fox is last of the Big Four with an average 3.0 rating.

If CBS is able to retain 18- to 49-year-olds, it’ll be able to boost ad rates for next season, especially on Thursdays, one of the most lucrative nights of the week for broadcasters. “With this significant a change for us, there will definitely be more money coming into us in May,” said CBS Chairman Les Moonves in a conference call with reporters. “These ratings are absolutely going to translate into dollars, especially on Thursday night.”

The victory forced Moonves to eat a little, unusually palatable crow. Years ago, CBS was so far behind among 18-49s that Moonves once lamented that it would never lead in that category. Today, he said he was thrilled to have been wrong.

“It is extremely gratifying for all of us that this has happened,” he said “We’re pretty proud.”

The improvement in prime time has helped affiliates going into their late-night news, giving them the best competitive position they’ve had in that slot for at least a decade, according to Moonves.

During the briefing with reporters, he said it’s too soon to provide any information about the network’s efforts to find a replacement for news anchor Dan Rather.“With Dan leaving, it’s a time of transition,” he said. “It’s certainly one of the biggest things on my plate.”

CBS is looking at a variety of options for the newscast, he added, including making changes to its format. In passing, he said that it might be wrong to assume that Rather would be replaced by one person.

Does that mean he’ll be replaced by a team of two anchors, asked one reporter.

“Anything could happen,” he replied. “We may bring in the cast of Friends to do the evening news.”

According to the preliminary projections from CBS, its average audience for November sweeps will come in at about 14.25 million. NBC is second with 10.77 million, then ABC with 10.71 million and Fox with 7.05 million.

That 3.5 million-viewer lead would be the largest of any No. 1 network since November 1987, when NBC was top dog.

During his press conference, Moonves also confirmed a diagnosis on Dr. Vegas that had yet to be formally articulated by the network: The show is not just on hiatus. It has been cancelled.

He also said the network had asked producers of CSI: NY is to make the show a little lighter. Although it has performed well in the ratings, CBS was concerned about its tone.

“We thought it was a little too dark,” Moonves said. “But we’re making adjustments.”

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