CBS Comes Up Aces with 'Race,' 'Survivor'
By Rick Kissell
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - CBS gave the competition a heavy dose of reality last week, as the two-hour finales of "The Amazing Race 3" and "Survivor: Thailand" powered the network to its first in-season victory among adults 18-49 -- a demographic it does not even target -- in more than a year.
CBS, which leads the season in total viewers, dominated that category as well, leading second-place NBC by about 3.5 million viewers (12.7 million to 9.2 million), according to Nielsen Media Research.
Other finales in the Dec. 16-22 frame -- the two-hour wedding episode and presumed series wrap of "Providence" -- helped NBC finish second across the board and join CBS as the only networks to fare better than the parallel week of a year ago.
But the story of this week was definitely CBS, which led the week in adults 18-49, its target 25-54 demographic and even 18-34 -- and it did so without the season's most-watched program, Thursday drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which rested as "Survivor" wrapped up its season.
"Survivor" (9.9 rating/26 share in adults 18-49, 24.08 million viewers overall) and the reunion show that followed (9.2/24, 20.42 million) were the week's top two programs, helping CBS capture Thursday in all key demos for the first time this season.
That, combined with first-place finishes on Monday (courtesy of "CSI: Miami") and Wednesday (thanks to "Amazing Race"), gave CBS its first victory in adults 18-49 during a broadcast season since early last December. "Race," while not in "Survivor's" league, won its two-hour slot in adults 18-49 with a season-high 4.7/11.
CBS' big week in primetime carried over to latenight, too, as "The Late Show With David Letterman" -- with guests including Tom Hanks and Drew Barrymore -- delivered its highest weekly scores of the season among households in the top "metered" markets (4.2/10), although it still trailed NBC's "Tonight Show With Jay Leno" (5.1/12).
NBC was virtually wall-to-wall repeats during the frame but placed second thanks in part to "Providence," which drew its best rating since January (3.8/13 in adults 18-49).
ABC finished third but just a couple of ticks behind NBC, led by "Monday Night Football" (6.7/19 in adults 18-49) and Tuesday comedy "According to Jim" (5.1/14), Tuesday's top-rated program in the demo for a second straight week. And although it didn't do huge numbers, Sunday's theatrical premiere of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" (3.3/10 in adults 18-49, 11.24 million viewers overall) was the week's top movie.
Fox, for whom the year can't end soon enough, ran a distant fourth in adults 18-49 despite winning three nights in the demo (Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday).
UPN managed to match its year-ago performance in adults 18-34 (only the second time in 13 weeks this season that it has avoided year-to-year losses), and moved ahead of the WB in key categories for the first time this fall.
Wednesday's "Enterprise," although still down sharply from its year-ago levels, rallied to its best adults 18-34 rating since mid-October (2.0/7). And on Tuesday, a special repeat of "The Twilight Zone" retained a good chunk of its firstrun "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" lead-in, grabbing the network's best series score in the hour this season (1.4/3).
The WB, with its key series in repeats, saw decent numbers for theatrical "Jack Frost" on Sunday (1.5/5 in adults 18-34), but otherwise had a listless week.
ESPN, which drew 9.7 million for its Patriots-Jets NFL contest on Sunday night, was easily primetime's top basic cable net for the week in both adults 18-49 (1.5 rating) and total viewers (3 million).
Latenight laughs: It's been a good couple of weeks for NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Not only have recent editions (hosted by Robert De Niro and Al Gore) drawn the largest audiences for the latenight show since last winter, but a 90-minute primetime Christmas special delivered a strong 4.2/12 in adults 18-49 from 8 to 9:30 on Tuesday.
Still scrapping: Fox's double-pumping of "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" seems to be helping the comedy add to its audience base, although it remains at pretty soft ratings levels. On Tuesday, "Andy" retained 76% of its "That '70s Show" 18-49 lead-in (3.5 vs. 4. 6), an improvement from the previous week's 63% hold.
Standing its ground: NBC's Thursday comedy block held up well opposite the finale of "Survivor: Thailand," with its 5.9 rating among adults 18-49 a 7% rise vs. the same night a year ago (5.5), when it didn't face a "Survivor" conclusion.
As for "Survivor," this edition delivered the lowest finale scores to date for the franchise, with its 9.9/26 falling below what a pair of hot reality shows grabbed with their most recent finishes: ABC's "The Bachelor" (11.9/28) and Fox's "American Idol" (10.7/30).
Still, "Survivor" ranks as the fourth most-watched series in primetime this season.