This fall, the broadcast networks have their own heated race: November sweeps. Going into the season's first sweeps period, Nov. 4-Dec. 1, the Big Four broadcasters were locked in a ferocious battle for the advertiser-rich 18-49 demo. Nielsen reports that Fox is in the lead (4.1 rating), but CBS is within striking distance (4.0) and third-placed NBC and ABC (each with 3.8), are close on their heels for the first six weeks of the TV season.
“One break could swing the race,” says Kelly Kahl, CBS senior vice president of operations. To tip the scales, the broadcasters are readying big guns, including theatricals Shrek and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and fabulous guest stars like teen queen Lindsay Lohan and Sex and the City siren Kristin Davis. They're also luring viewers with scheduling ploys, producing connected episodes of NBC's Las Vegas and Crossing Jordan, UPN's America's Next Top Model and Kevin Hill. An added bonus: a two-parter of CBS' Without a Trace. Here's a rundown of each network's November surprise:
Big events: blockbuster theatricals Saving Private Ryan (11/11), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (11/13) and Jim Carey's Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (11/25)
Holiday cheer: family favorite A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (11/25); Newlyweds Nick Lachey & Jessica Simpson's music special Nick & Jessica's Family Christmas (12/1)
New additions: Four-part reality show Life of Luxury, a hipster's version of Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous (11/8)
Guest stars: Jaclyn Smith and Jenni McCarthy on Hope & Faith, Sharon Lawrence on Desperate Housewives, Jimmy Smits on NYPD Blue
Big events: Crowd-pleasing movies Men in Black (11/13), Erin Brockovich (11/18), It's a Wonderful Life (11/27), Shrek (11/28); crossover episodes of Las Vegas and Crossing Jordan; Dateline special on retiring NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw (11/26); Brokaw signs off NBC Nightly News (12/1).
Holiday cheer: Country-music star Tim McGraw hosts his second Thanksgiving special (11/24); Seinfeld Retrospective Special (11/25) just in time to promote the show's DVD release
New additions: Reality show $25 Million Dollar Hoax, where a girl tries to convince her family she has won the lottery, debuts Nov. 8.
Guest stars: Ray Liotta on ER; The Sopranos' Jamie-Lynn DiScala on Will & Grace; Julianna Margulies on Scrubs
Big events: TV's favorite socialites Paris Hilton and Nichole Ritchie are back with a special The Simple LIfe(11/17); theatricals Spider-Man (11/25), Mr. Deeds (11/26), Men in Black II (11/27) and Ice Age (11/30)
Holiday Cheer:American Idol champs Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia get together for Kelly, Ruben & Fantasia: Home for Christmas (11/24);
New additions: new medical-mystery drama House (11/16); reality show Nanny 911! (11/10); The O.C. moves to Thursdays
Guest stars: Lindsay Lohan on That '70s Show, Gabrielle Reece on North Shore
Big events: A 90-minute CSI: Miami (11/8); country stars Brooks and Dunn host the 38th Annual Country Music Association Awards (11/9); three natural disasters converge on Chicago in two-part miniseries Category 6: Day of Destruction (11/14 and 11/17).
Holiday cheer: Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (12/1)
New additions: Emmy-winning Amazing Race debuts season six (11/16).
Guest stars: Denise Richards on Two and a Half Men, Friends' Aisha Tyler on CSI, Charles Dunning on NCIS.
Big events: Urban-music–themed Vibe Awards (11/16); Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (11/12); Kevin Hill star Taye Diggs visits America's Next Top Model to teach the aspiring models to act.
Holiday cheer: Thanksgiving comes early on sitcoms Half & Half (11/22), Second Time Around (11/22) and All of Us (11/23).
Guest stars:Mean Girls' Jonathan Bennett and Napoleon Dynamite's Tina Majorino on Veronica Mars; Fame's Debbie Allen on All of Us.
Big events:Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (11/7 and 11/8); theatrical A Walk To Remember, starring Mandy Moore (11/24)
Holiday cheer: The WB's first original movie, Samantha: An American Girl Holiday (11/23)
Guest stars:ET's Maria Menounos on One Tree Hill, Jane Seymour on Smallville, Dawson's Creek's Kerr Smith on Charmed