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In Reality, It Was the Weirdest Sweeps Ever

After a February sweeps that CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves characterized as "perhaps the craziest in show-business history," Fox claimed its first 18-49 win in its 20 years on the air, toppling NBC from its 18-49 perch for the first time since February 2000.

The final score: Fox 5.6 to NBC 4.8. CBS took third in the demo with a 4.2, propelled by the Grammys last Monday night. ABC came in close fourth at 4.0.

"Fox showed a great deal of network strength fueled by Joe Millionaire
and American Idol," said Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group. "Fox is the only network with two big hits on its schedule. Both series were incredibly saleable and incredibly profitable."

CBS nabs total viewers

Meanwhile, CBS won the sweeps period in total viewers with 13.8 million, the network's largest margin since 1993, Moonves said. That beat NBC's 12.45 million, Fox's 12.1 million and ABC's 10.45 million. CBS also wins February sweeps in households with an 8.9 rating. NBC is in second in the category with an 8.1, Fox third with a 7.1 and ABC fourth with a 6.6.

Fox's win in the 18-49 demo was based on the strength of ratings juggernauts Joe Millionaire
and American Idol, both of which appeared midseason, and, to some extent, the network succeeded by having lots of time slots vacant that it filled with reality shows. CBS, on the other hand, accomplished its viewer win with its core schedule. Still, the network, probably to its frustration, takes a kind of bridesmaid award as advertisers fixate on the 18-49 demo.

"Some networks literally blew up their entire schedules, scrambling for ratings points," Moonves said. "It didn't really work. CBS remains the most stable and consistently successful network on television."

Still, some of CBS's most popular shows took hits from Fox's reality programs. On Monday, Everybody Loves Raymond
was down 15% in adults 18-49 and 5% in viewers since the November sweeps, competing directly with Joe Millionaire. Raymond
lead-out freshman comedy Still Standing
also lost ground, losing 20% of its 18-49 audience and 9% of viewers. But CSI: Miami
gathered people back at 10 p.m., improving its performance in adults 18-49 by 5% since November.

NBC's Thursday stumbles

American Idol
had little effect on CBS on Tuesdays, since the two schedules attract different audiences.

What made things tougher for NBC this sweeps period was not only losing viewers on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights to Joe Millionaire
and American Idol
but also losing twice on Thursday night: once to Michael Jackson on ABC and once to CBS's 90-minute premiere of Survivor: The Amazon
and a 90-minute episode of CSI.

"The top scripted shows in all of television in adults 18-49 remain Friends
and ER," said NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker. "But that's not to say we aren't going to play more in the unscripted arena. Clearly, we need a relationship show to go with the great success of Fear Factor."

ABC sees light

Although ABC took fourth in the sweeps, down from its second-place finish in November, the network was encouraged by its 30% improvement in adults 18-49 over its sweeps performance last year, said Lloyd Braun, chairman, ABC Entertainment Television Group. The network was also up 28% in adults 18-34 and 31% in viewers vs. November.

"We are in the middle of what is turning out to be a very successful season for ABC," Braun said, adding, "We recognize that there is still a ton of work left to do."

That work starts with Thursday night, which has depressed the network's ratings results across the entire schedule. Although reality series Are You Hot?
has been disparaged by critics, the show has improved its Thursday 9 p.m. ET time slot by 130% over what ABC was airing there in November. That is ABC's reality home base for the foreseeable future, said ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne.