Who won? What's being counted?

NBC takes year, sweeps in key demo; CBS wins total viewers and households

The 2000-01 season will go down as the year of the haves and have-nots. With the completion of the season and May sweeps last Wednesday, a handful of networks were tooting their own horns while others were simply apologizing for their misfortunes. The season of Survivor,
supersized Friends
and Temptation Island
will also go down as one of the most heated battles in network-TV history.

NBC and CBS were the official winners, with NBC taking the year and the final sweeps period in the key adults 18-49 demographic. CBS rode the tidal wave of Survivor
to victories in total viewers and households for both May and the season as well. Fox and The WB also rebounded from the previous season.

ABC saw the biggest declines of all the majors, having been boosted in 1999-2000 by Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
and hurt this season as its aging viewership base affected the network overall. Although NBC still came out on top in adults 18-49, that network, too, suffered across-the-board declines in the major ratings categories, including that 18-49 demographic. UPN, which has added a number of high-profile series for the fall, was relatively flat on the ratings front.

"It's probably one of the most competitive seasons we've all seen in a very long time," says Lloyd Braun, co-chairman of the ABC Entertainment Group. "I don't think it's ever been more true that all of us are just one big hit away being No. 1."

In terms of median age, ABC and CBS went in different directions as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
aged up and CBS benefited from Survivor's mass appeal. CBS finished the season with viewers averaging 50.9 years, down from 52.4 the season before. ABC rose to 46.8 from its 43.3 average for the 1999-2000 season. NBC went down in age, falling slightly to 45.0 from 45.2. UPN went up three years to 33.6, while The WB and Fox aged less than a year to 29.0 and 35.9 respectively.

"We clearly had a better May sweeps than anybody else, and we're in the best competitive position we've been in for many years," CBS TV President and CEO Les Moonves maintains.

The two-hour finale of Survivor: The Australian Outback
helped CBS win the May sweeps in total viewers and households for the first time since 1988. It was CBS' first season victory in the two categories since the 1998-99 season. Freshman shows CSI
and The District, along with the network's strong Monday-night comedy block helped CBS reclaim some of its past glory. The network did improve its adults 18-49 standing by 8%, but its final season average of a 4.0 rating/11 share is still fourth among the major networks.

Outside of CBS, Fox was definitely the season's other big story. A year ago, the network was in the dumps, shaking up its executive ranks and going downward in the ratings. That's not the case now.

"Simply put, we had our most competitive season ever, and we really like our prospects for the upcoming season," says Fox's Sandy Grushow. "We truly believe that, in spite of all the noise that others are making, the real story of this broadcast season is the emergence of Fox as a major player in the race for prime time leadership."

Helped by new series Dark Angel
and Boston Public,
Fox improved across the board in both the May and final season tallies, including its best-ever adults 18-49 season average of a 4.5/12.

The WB, which was disrupted by distribution woes and the failure of a few new series a year ago, came back to life in 2000-01. "Last year was the first year we moved backwards or stood still," says WB Entertainment Co-President Jordan Levin. "Other than that, it's been seven years of momentum, and I know we are back on track now." We'll find out if the loss of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
and Roswell
derails The WB in the fall and, conversely, propels UPN, which is picking them up.

At ABC, it's "wait until next year." ABC tumbled 31% in adults 18-49 and 29% in total viewers in May and had double-digit losses in the two categories for the season.

"Clearly, we are not thrilled with our performance this May," ABC's Braun acknowledges. "Last year at this time, we were riding the incredible phenomenon that was Millionaire
and the halo effect that it had on our entire schedule. This year, while still a terrific show, Millionaire
is not the ratings phenomenon it was last year, and our performance this May reflects that to a degree."

NBC continued to hold on to its first-place status in adults 18-49 for the fifth sweeps in a row and for the seventh consecutive May sweeps, helped by a special marriage episode of Friends.
The network also won the season in the key demographic for the fifth time in the past six years. And NBC programmers continued to hammer home the fact that their network reaches more upscale viewers (viewers with incomes over $75,000) than any other network—by far. On the downside, NBC finished a distant third in the total viewer race for the year with a 6% drop to 11.6 million.

"The network that usually wins May usually goes on to win the following season," NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa says. "And considering the fact that we are returning four nights virtually intact, which is something we haven't done since 1989, we feel very good about next season being a good one for NBC."


70 & counting

For thousands of readers, for dozens of years, Donald V. West and BROADCASTING magazine were synonymous. He started at the magazine in 1953 and, except for a brief stint at CBS, has been here ever since, for many years as the magazine's editor. Now BROADCASTING & CABLE's editor at large, West looks back at the history this magazine witnessed, and his own role in the process.