Nov. Sweep Win 3 in a Row for ABC
CBS Holds Its Lead in Total Viewers
While a historic writers strike raged outside Hollywood’s studio gates, a relatively uneventful November sweeps unfolded on the broadcast airwaves.
For the third November in a row, ABC led in the coveted adults 18-to-49 demographic, while CBS once again dominated among total viewers. As the networks raced to the sweeps finish line, a rapidly draining stockpile of completed drama and comedy programs resulted in inconvenient repeats in a few time periods, but the bulk of the strike’s prime-time impact had not yet hit.
ABC’s victory was powered by the usual success of "Dancing With the Stars" and "Grey’s Anatomy." But the network also enjoyed strong ratings from late-starter breakout comedy "Samantha Who?" and from holiday specials slotted to fill holes vacated by "Cavemen" and "Carpoolers."
In fact, the biggest surprise of the sweep was last week’s debut of the animated holiday special "Shrek the Halls," which earned a whopping 7.1 rating among adults 18 to 49.
"What’s satisfying about this is we did it without ‘Lost,’" said Jeff Bader, ABC’s executive VP of scheduling. "Thanks to the strength across the schedule, we finished first on six nights."
The "Shrek" special took two years to produce, so having another edition ready by next year is unlikely.
The downside for ABC, and most competitors, is the initial year-to-year comparisons.
Though live-plus-seven-day DVR playback ratings are expected to improve the standings, ABC (a 3.7 average rating) and CBS (3.4) were both down 8% year-to-year (see chart). Third-place NBC (3.2) was down 14%. Fox (3.1) was the only network to show some growth, up 3%. In its sophomore season, The CW (1.1) was down a perilous 21%.
CBS’ sweep was marked by viewers returning to the network after sampling competitive fare. Several shows posted season highs in November, with gains made by the network’s Monday night comedy block and "Criminal Minds." Among freshman shows, CBS points out that only its "The Big Bang Theory" and "Moonlight" and The CW’s "Gossip Girl" posted average increases in November compared to their first couple of months.
"Since the season started you’re seeing shows trending up," said Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP of programming operations for CBS. "We’re headed in the right direction, and November was validation of that."
NBC’s November was marked by some ratings slippage among its Monday and Wednesday dramas, with "Bionic Woman," "Journeyman" and "Life" continuing to struggle. On the plus side, "Heroes" and "Chuck" seemed to have reversed their ratings descents amid reports of the shows creatively getting back on track.
The network announced full-season pickups for "Chuck" and "Life" last week, as well as setting January premiere dates for several reality shows.
Vince Manze, NBC’s president of program planning, scheduling and strategy, said the strike might have played a factor in the network’s numbers.
"You’d like to have an original ‘Office’ in the middle of your Thursday night," he said. "There’s a little confusion on the public’s part in terms of what is on and what is original when shows are being yanked by some networks."
Fox’s fourth-place finish was offset by overall ratings gains due to a more stable schedule throughout the week, specifically the continued Tuesday night success of "House" and "Bones," the network’s Sunday night comedies and even some time-period growth from the new show "Kitchen Nightmares."
Preston Beckman, executive VP for strategic program planning at Fox, said the network is closing the gap on its competitors earlier than ever.
"We’re in a much better place moving into the near year," he said. "We’ve shown growth virtually every night of the week except Monday."
The CW’s story had a bright spot with "Gossip Girl" gathering some ratings steam, but freshman shows "Reaper" and "Life Is Wild" continued to struggle.