Photo Finish to Sweeps

CBS ties surging ABC

A red-nosed reindeer helped pull CBS into a first-place tie in the 18-49 demo with ABC in November sweeps. It illustrated just how close the demo race is between the two networks—and how wide the gap is between the front-runners and the rest of the field.

Coming down to the final night, CBS—on the strength of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (which posted its best 18-49 and 25-54 numbers in five years) at 8 p.m. ET—drew even with ABC in 18-49, with an average 4.4 rating/12 share for the month. CBS, as usual, won outright in adults 25-54 and total viewers, while ABC took the 18-34 crown for the second consecutive November, growing by a million viewers overall. Fox, which finished fourth and eagerly awaits the return of American Idol, claimed a win among teens.

CBS benefited from not only a big Rudolph showing on Wednesday but also a strong Criminal Minds (it placed a solid second against Lost, which led by 5.4 million viewers and 80% in 18-49), and a top-rated CSI: NY at 10 p.m. ET.

ABC—the most improved network this November, thanks to its trio of sophomore hits (Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy)—posted the biggest year-to-year sweeps gain, 10%, from last November’s average 4.0/11. It was ABC’s best sweeps performance in the 18-49 demo since February 2001.


CBS dropped 2%, to an average of 4.5/12 in that demo. NBC (3.3/9), down a whopping 18% from November 2004 (4.0/11), scrambled last week to revamp its midseason schedule, sending My Name Is Earl and The Office to Thursdays, after Fox announced it will keep Idol on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

NBC had little good news to tout, other than a strong two-hour finale for the second edition of The Biggest Loser on the final Tuesday of sweeps. Loser, however, did little to pull the network out of its ratings hole. NBC managed to eke out a narrow third-place victory over Fox (3.2/9), which was up 7% from a 3.0/8 average last November, with stronger regular series, such as Prison Break, this fall.


CBS, marking its second consecutive November victory in 18-49, boasted that it was the first time since the 1960s that it had finished first in viewers, adults 18-49 (edging past ABC by a narrow 16,000 viewers in the category) and 25-54. It was also the first time a network has accomplished that feat since NBC did it in 1996.

ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy did the best job of enhancing any of the networks’ 10:30-11 p.m. ET Monday-Sunday lead-ins for affiliates’ late newscasts. It averaged a 4.7 rating in adults 25-54, up from a 4.0 a year ago. CBS slipped from 6.0 to a 5.7 in the demo, NBC from 5.4 to 5.0.

Among the younger-demo–focused networks, UPN was up 13% from last November in adults 18-34—proving that not everybody hates Chris—to 1.7/5. With its new strategy of seeking a broader demo reach apparently not yet working, The WB fell 12% to 1.5/4, even with a stronger Thursday-night schedule composed of Smallville and Everwood.

For the season through Nov. 27, only ABC was able to improve its 18-49 average (up 5% to 4.1/11). CBS tied with ABC but declined 2% from fall 2004. Fox has dropped 11% to 3.3/9, but that’s still good enough to pass NBC; the season’s biggest loser plummeted 18% to 3.2/9.