When this season began, it looked as if NBC's aging anchor shows would force the network into decline, but, as November sweeps comes to a close, the network will not only dominate in adults 18-49 by a huge margin but also win in adults 25-54 and 18-34.
The network was in a tight race with CBS for households and viewers, and NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said even he was shocked to find his network in first place in those categories as of early last week. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said he expected CBS to retake the lead by the time sweeps ended last Wednesday (after BROADCASTING & CABLE 's holiday deadline).
Even if NBC doesn't pull out a win in those two categories, it significantly narrowed the gap since last year when NBC lost to CBS in viewers by 800,000.
The performance marks NBC's 11th consecutive sweeps win and its seventh November-sweeps win in eight years, and Zucker predicted, "NBC's going to win 18-49 by more than 20%. That's the biggest margin for anyone in six years."
Meanwhile, ABC surprised and delighted itself with a second-place finish in adults 18-49, pulling itself up from fourth last year.
"The only rating we count is 18-49," said ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne. A no-show for most of last season, ABC has pulled itself up to become the No. 1 or 2 network in the demo five nights a week.
Zucker attributed his network's win to having 12 established programs—including Third Watch, Ed, Law & Order: SVU
and Will & Grace
—that still have growing audiences. Last week's 90-minute episode of Will & Grace, featuring Grace's wedding followed by a clips show, clobbered CBS's CSI
in adults 18-49 and clinched the demo victory for NBC.
Although NBC has few holes in its prime time schedule, the network plans to launch three series between January and March: Mister Sterling, A.U.S.A.
and Kingpin. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Watching Ellie, which had a limited run last season with iffy numbers, also will return in March, Zucker said.
will premiere Friday, Jan. 10, at 8 p.m. ET, in Providence's time slot, but there's a asterisk there: Providence
may not be cancelled, Zucker said, and he is considering keeping it on the air after a hiatus. A.U.S.A., a show about young assistant U.S. attorneys, will launch during February sweeps, and Kingpin, a show about a Mexican drug-trafficking family that is expected to stretch broadcast television's boundaries of violent and racy content, will bow in March. "There's nothing like it on network television," Zucker said (although, from the sounds of it, there may be something like it on HBO).
Coming off the success of The Bachelor, ABC plans to keep fresh reality programming on Wednesdays at 9 p.m., hoping to capitalize on The Bachelor's momentum without wearing out the franchise—something it didn't do with its last breakout hit, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, which was played to death a couple seasons back. The Bachelorette, which will run six episodes, premieres Jan. 8. ABC has six other reality series in the pipeline to fill the time slot through May sweeps. Those include Get Me Out of Here, I'm a Celebrity; All-American Girl; Celebrity Mole; Family Trust; Are You Hot?; and The Will.
ABC also has several mid-season replacements, with Dragnet
and the potentially controversial Miracles
ready to fill Monday Night Football's space after the Super Bowl. Other shows waiting in the wings are adventure hour Veritas
and comedies Lost at Home
and Regular Joe.
WB's big demos score
The other big growth story this year is The WB, which scored its best-ever ratings in sweeps across several demographic categories, notably adults 18-34, men 18-34, women 18-34, adults 18-49, women 18-49 and men 18-49. In comparison with last year's sweeps, The WB has grown 20% in adults 18-34, 17% in adults 18-49 and 17% in total viewers. The next closest network growth-wise is ABC.
With all the good news, The WB still has some work to do.
Birds of Prey
is officially canceled, and the network will move Angel
from Sundays at 9 p.m. to Wednesdays at 9 p.m. in January, says Entertainment President Jordan Levin.
In Angel's place, the network will air new reality program High School Reunion, which it also will repeat on Thursdays at 8 p.m., starting Jan. 9. Another new reality program, The Surreal Life, starts on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. in January, following The Jamie Kennedy Experiment
at 9 p.m. That will create an "all-reality Thursday" for the network through February sweeps. High School Reunion
is only a six-episode show, Surreal Life
only eight, so the network will have to do some more rejiggering come March.
Although its Thursday-night shows are not doing well, The WB plans to reintroduce them in March in new time slots with new lead-ins.
CBS: No stunting
Although CBS did well in November sweeps, the network still could end up in second or third in every demo, including households, viewers, and adults 18-49 and 25-54.
ABC's sprint to the finish and NBC's successful use of stunts within its major series left CBS a little winded. (But, for the season-to-date, CBS is second in the 18-49 demo.)
Moonves said the strength of his network's core schedule, which turned in a solid performance with very little stunting, "bodes extremely well for the future" because of the ability of all the shows to build. He contrasted that with NBC, which deep-sixed some low-performing shows during sweeps. "You're not going to build shows by taking Good Morning, Miami
and Hidden Hills
off the schedule," he said, pointedly.
With Moonves saying his only problem areas are "two hours on Wednesdays and two hours on Fridays," there isn't much space available in the schedule for mid-season replacements. Still, four shows are waiting: Star Search, Queen Supreme, Charlie Lawrence
and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
will premiere on Thursday, Jan. 9, at 8 p.m., in Survivor's time slot.
Fox is having a hard time leaving baseball behind and, as a result, was down 16% year-to-year in adults 18-49 during the sweeps. Still, it was No. 2 in its key demo, adults 18-34, and is No. 1 on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays in adults 18-34 and 18-49.
"After enjoying tremendous success this summer, we had no illusion about how challenging this November sweeps would be," said Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman.
January will see several schedule changes for the network, with the 90-minute premiere of American Idol
on Tuesday, Jan. 21, followed by another 90-minute special on Wednesday, Jan. 22. After that, the show will settle into its regular time periods on Tuesdays from 8 to 9 p.m. and Wednesdays from 8:30 to 9 p.m.
will bump That '70s Show
to Wednesday nights at 8 p.m., pushing Bernie Mac
and Cedric the Entertainer Presents
back to 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., respectively.
That puts Bernie
up against ABC's The Bachelorette
and whatever other reality shows ABC chooses to throw at it. American Idol's finale will be on May 16, in the heart of the sweeps.
"One of the things we talked a lot about trying to do with our unscripted asset [American Idol] is using it to help us build scripted shows," said Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group. "We are using it to lead in to two Emmy Award-winning series: 24
and Bernie Mac. That was strategic and done by design."
Fastlane, the current occupant of the Wednesday 9 p.m. slot, will move to Fridays at 8 p.m., while Firefly
goes on hiatus.
The Grubbs, which had been announced for the fall season but hadn't aired, and Septuplets, which was to have been a replacement show, will not see the light of day, Berman said, because neither lived up to the network's creative expectations.
UPN is down this season, mostly because the weblet could not post the same ratings this premiere season as last, when Buffy the Vampire Slayer
debuted on UPN to huge numbers. As the season has gone on, UPN's numbers have flattened out, leaving it down 14% in persons 12-34 and adults 18-34 as of Sunday, Nov. 24.
"When we looked at where we ended last year, when we had the biggest year in the history of our schedule, we were very realistic about our expectations this year," says UPN Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff. "We wanted to be about where we were in May and up in some of our key demos, and that's where we are."
Essentially, UPN has only two hours to fix: Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. and Wednesday nights at 9 p.m., although Ostroff says the network will give Wednesday's The Twilight Zone
a chance for viewers to find it.