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NBC dominates demo with `Wing’ and more

Oct 8, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Practically the only way NBC could top Oct. 3’s special terrorism-themed episode of “The West Wing” would be to get soon-to-be departing New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to make a presidential election run against the show’s incumbent President Josiah Bartlet.
Buoyed by “West Wing’s” best-ever performance in the key adults 18 to 49 demographics and the successful planting of freshman sitcom “Scrubs,” NBC further solidified its early ratings hold on the key demo, households and total viewers into the second week of the 2001-02 season.
Among the other networks unspooling new series: ABC continued to be the most successful in trimming down its median age level, with “According to Jim” being a potential 8:30 p.m. (ET) Wednesday hit; UPN saw the resurrection of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” put its Tuesday lineup on the map; and CBS held broad-based household and total-viewers leads for its Monday and Tuesday rotations.
Aaron Sorkin’s quickly penned special episode of “The West Wing,” which largely dealt with high school students getting a lesson on terrorism during a White House lockdown, drew a personal-best 9.8 rating/25 share average in adults 18 to 49, according to final Nielsen Media Research national data. Going into its third season, “West Wing” attracted 25.2 million viewers, dominating the time period and beating out last season’s two-hour opener in total viewers (25.05 million) and adults 18 to 49 (9.4/23).
Overall, “West Wing” drew an evening-high 15.9/24 household average and delivered NBC’s largest audience in the hour with regularly scheduled programming since March 1, 1989. The boosted lead-in enabled the 10 p.m. run of “Law & Order” to deliver its highest audience ever (22.5 million viewers) in the 12-year history of the franchise as well as its second-best score in adults 18 to 49 (8.8/23).
With the second week of NBC’s Thursday “Must See TV” lineup again being free of the “Survivor: Africa” season opener, NBC’s 11.8/20 average in adults 18 to 49, though down 9 percent from its premiere-week outing, held a commanding 162 percent margin over second-ranked CBS (4.5/11), according to Nielsen fast national data.
Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment, said he liked that NBC won Tuesday through Thursday in “commanding fashion” and appeared on track to win the second Friday night of the season.
Still, NBC has its Achilles’ heel in its Tuesday 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. comedy tandem of “Emeril” (3.1/9) and “Three Sisters” (3.5/9) flat in adults 18 to 49 and last in the hour. However, NBC executives pointed out it was close to par with ABC’s “Dharma & Greg” (3.3/9) and “What About Joan” (3.5/9) in the frame the previous week.
“If `Emeril’ stays where it is at a 3 rating [in the adults 18 to 49] demo, we’ll consider that a huge story for us as long as it holds position or grows,” said Mr. Zucker, who added that no imminent scheduling moves are on the horizon for Tuesday. “We’re also very pleased that `Inside Schwartz’ is at the same exact retention levels on its second Thursday coming out of `Friends.’ We think that is a very positive sign of the show continuing to get strong sampling.”
Things were clearly better for NBC on the comedy development front as well, with the 9:30 p.m. Tuesday premiere of “Scrubs” scoring a winning 6.9/19 in adults 18 to 49 and marking 99 percent retention from its “Frasier” lead-in (7.0/17). “Scrubs” gave NBC its highest-rated sitcom debut this year, except for “Inside Schwartz,” which seems to be time-period-dependent.
“This could be a significant turn of fortunes for NBC, because it is a sign of `Scrubs’ being the first legitimate sitcom that can hold or build on its lead-in,” said Steve Sternberg, senior VP/director of audience analysis for Magna Global USA. “We thought `Scrubs’ was one of the best new comedies and could be something that can build, so the next few weeks will be the true tale of the tape.”
ABC, too, had something to crow about with the robust 8:30 p.m. Wednesday premiere of “According to Jim,” whose winning 5.7/15 average in adults 18 to 49 marked a 16 percent increase over 8 p.m. lead-in “My Wife and Kids” (4.9/15). Lloyd Braun, co-chairman of ABC Television Entertainment Group, said the strong early sampling of the James Belushi-led family sitcom gives the network added “young-demo momentum.”
“If you look at `Alias,’ `Thieves,’ `According to Jim’ and `My Wife and Kids,’ they are already turning out to be very strong shows for our core [adults 18 to 49] demographic-shows that have strong upside potential and can keep growing,” Mr. Braun said.
In fact, ABC’s researchers are claiming that ABC is the youngest of the Big 3 broadcast networks in the first week, with its median age of 43.9 years marking a 7 percent decrease from its 47.1 years at the end of last season. By comparison, they said NBC (45.1 years) and CBS (52.3 years) have remained flat year to year. However, many in the industry had expected ABC would drop its median age, given that the network reduced the older-skewing “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” game show’s airings from four nights a week to two nights.
Mr. Sternberg said he found it a “very positive sea change” in ABC’s young-demo performance, where its adults 18 to 49 (4.7/13) and adults 18 to 34 (3.7/11) first-week averages marked slight 2 percent and 5 percent improvements over the year-ago premiere week.
UPN is also doing well in young demos with the Tuesday, Oct. 2, premiere of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and solid second-week returns from the Wednesday, Oct. 3, “Enterprise.” “Buffy” generated series records in adults 18 to 49 (3.8/10), adults 18 to 34 (4.8/14), men 18 to 34 (4.5/14) and women 18 to 34 (5.1/13) in its two-hour premiere on the network-surpassing The WB’s previous five-year highs in all key adult demos and several male demos.
After posting a second-best-ever 6.3/16 score for the network in adults 18 to 49 for Week 1, “Enterprise” had a 4.6/13 score last week, posting a 27 percent drop on a week-to-week basis. Adam Ware, chief operating officer of UPN, said the numbers on “Enterprise” could still go up when the counting of secondary affiliate and lower-power TV markets, which will take the show’s U.S. coverage from 82 percent to 88 percent, are tabulated by early this week.
In any event, the addition of “Buffy” helped UPN earn a 3.0/8 score in adults 18 to 49 through Wednesday, Oct. 4, in prime time. UPN was pacing 15 percent ahead of Week 1’s 2.6/7 score, which ended up being 18 percent above year-ago levels.
“Clearly, it is about comparative values, and we now have two shows that deliver comparable young demo numbers on par with shows like `Alias’ or `7th Heaven’ on the other networks,” Mr. Ware said. “We now have comparative tools where we’ll be able to convince advertisers that they are either paying too much for other shows [or] not getting the kind of efficiencies our shows deliver with young males and women.”