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CBS, Fox Jockey for Photo Finish

Feb 26, 2007  •  Post A Comment

With February sweeps concluding Wednesday, the network race is going down to the wire as a surging Fox gains ground on leader CBS.

Three weeks into the sweeps, CBS leads with a 5.6 sweeps-to-date average rating among adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research. “American Idol”-fueled Fox is at 5.0.

While that seems like a large gap to close, CBS received an enormous boost from the Super Bowl telecast at the start of the sweeps, but has been leveling off ever since. Fox has been creeping steadily upward every week. ABC (3.5), NBC (2.9) and The CW (1.3) continue to hold relatively steady.

The sweeps race will be decided Tuesday or Wednesday, when Fox will attempt to erase CBS’s lead with its “Idol” one-two punch. Analysts said the race will be too close to call in the ratings period, which helps television stations set advertising prices.

Aside from Fox, few networks had reason to celebrate during the third week of sweeps. A large number of shows hit rating lows due to the confluence of a three-day holiday weekend, slightly lower household viewing levels and “American Idol’s” dominance.

NBC’s “Las Vegas,” CBS’s “NCIS” and ABC’s “Lost” matched previous season lows. CBS’s “Jericho” and NBC’s “Grease: You’re the One That I Want,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “Friday Night Lights” all hit single-season lows. CBS’s “The Unit” and NBC’s “The Apprentice,” “Deal or No Deal,” and “Medium” posted series lows.

Many of the shows suffered by competing directly against Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s two-hour editions of “Idol” or had to struggle against a diminished lead-in due to the reality giant. Yet even “Idol” wasn’t immune to the trend, hitting its own season low Tuesday before bouncing back in its Wednesday slot.

NBC’s “Grease” and “Apprentice” aired on Sunday night, but viewing levels were lower than usual because Monday was a holiday.

“Jericho” returned Wednesday after a two-and-a-half-month hiatus to a season low, following in the footsteps of ABC’s “Lost” earlier this month. Drawing parallels is difficult, however, since “Jericho” returned against “Idol” while “Lost” moved to a later time period. Either way, both shows’ performances give network executives reason to pause before giving serialized programs lengthy hiatuses in the future.