ABC's One-Night Stand

In last week's much hyped Wednesday-night prime time battle, the finale of ABC's The Bachelor turned CBS's Victoria's Secret special and its troupe of scantily clad models into a bunch of TV wallflowers.

ABC got huge ratings out of Mike Fleiss's reality dating program. In adults 18-49 from 9 to 10 p.m. ET, the show did a 10.9 rating/25 share, in adults 18-34 an 11.5/29. At 10 p.m., the numbers exploded: a 13.0/31 in adults 18-49 and a 13.4/35 in adults 18-34. To emphasize the point: From 10 to 11 p.m., one-third of adults 18-49 watching television were watching The Bachelor.

Those numbers drove ABC to second place in the coveted adults 18-49 demographic for the November sweeps. As of last Thursday, ABC was two-tenths of a ratings point ahead of CBS.

Whether ABC will be able to make that claim when the sweeps end this Wednesday is unclear. The network still has nothing going for it on Thursday nights.

"We were hoping to be an honest third in this November sweeps, so the schedule has really performed beyond our expectations," says ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne. The network is performing better than expected on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

What is clear is that NBC will once again emerge as the No. 1 network in the 18-49 demo.

NBC sealed its dominance in that demo with a 5.1 average rating last week and tied CBS on total viewers with an average 13.2 million viewers in the first 21 days of the sweeps.

"NBC is in pretty good shape," says Steve Sternberg, senior vice president, director of audience analysis, at Magna Global USA.

CBS knew The Bachelor
was going to prove tough competition. Victoria's Secret
was originally scheduled to air at 10 p.m. ET. Not wanting to go head-to-head with the last hour of The Bachelor
finale, it moved the show to 8 p.m. but decided its sexy models would draw too many complaints at that hour. The network finally settled on 9 p.m. and resigned itself to the show's fate. The show managed a 3.9/9 in adults 18-49 and a 3.5/9 in adults 18-34.

"With all the hype and build-up going into The Bachelor, you knew going in that the show was going to do a big number in the finale," says Tom DeCabia, executive vice president of PHD USA. "But The Bachelor
had a cliffhanger, and there was tremendous buzz on this show. Victoria's Secret
was a one-time-only event."

Even if viewers weren't watching Victoria's Secret, federal regulators were. Early last Thursday morning, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps told reporters he had received some 250 e-mails complaining about the show. The complaints pushed him in a direction he already is inclined toward, and he called on the FCC to review its definition of indecency so that it would be more in line with Congressional orders to restrict profane, indecent and violent programming.

Copps also said he believes consolidation and indecency are increasingly connected: "It's kind of an intuitive conclusion. More and more programming decisions are made by folks with advertisers' interest at heart."

Meanwhile, Fox was hoping to draw big numbers to its new fall programming, which it didn't launch until November because of the baseball playoffs and World Series. Instead, the network is off year-to-year in many of the demos, although it is holding up with young males. In adults 18-34, the network is down 18%. Among women in that age bracket, it is down 27%.

Fox's problems began with the early cancellation of David E. Kelly's Girls Club, which left it with a glaring and unexpected hole on Monday night. Fox's Tuesday-, Wednesday- and Sunday-night schedules are working, with 24
a particular highlight, but Thursdays and Fridays leave something to be desired.

Fox managed to take second place in the 18-34 demo last week, and it has plenty of shows that dominate in the demo, notably That '70s Show, 24, The Simpsons
and Malcolm in the Middle.

UPN is down 14% year-to-year in its core demo, persons 12-34, but Sternberg says the picture isn't completely bleak. "All UPN needs is two programs, basically, to turn itself around. It needs a show that holds Buffy the Vampire Slayer's ratings on Tuesday and a show that holds Enterprise's ratings on Wednesday."

And Monday nights at least are looking good for the network, with its comedies giving the network its best performance on that night in women 18-49 in more than a year and in women 18-34 in more than 41/2 years.

By contrast, The WB's stellar season has held up since its premieres; the network is up year-to-year 8% in persons 12-34. It's the only network to be up in demos across the board. It is No. 3 in women 12-34 and beats CBS in persons 12-34 and women 18-34. It also is No. 1 among all networks in female teens with strong performances on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights.

Still, The WB has a few problem areas, too, with freshman Birds of Prey
unlikely to be picked up for a full-season run and the network's Thursday night shows scoring negligible ratings.

Bill McConnell contributed to this story.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.