NBC got some good news, while ABC and CBS came out on top.
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NBC Up in 18-to-49 Demo, but ABC Takes the Crown
Sweeps -- which occur in November, February, May and July -- measure ratings for all 210 TV markets. The importance of sweeps has declined with the advent of local people meters in the top 10 markets, which now provide overnight ratings and demographic data. But it still provides valuable chest-thumping material for the networks and their affiliates.
Slate of dramas
ABC's first-place finish is due to an enviable slate of dramas. Even its typical November ratings driver, "Monday Night Football," which migrated to ESPN this year, wasn't necessary. Instead, credit goes to the likes of "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost," "Desperate Housewives" and "Dancing With the Stars."
"It's an affirmation for all the people who worked really hard for the network to turn it around," said Steve McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment. "When we had success with 'Lost' and 'Desperate,' people said two shows were driving the success. Now you see it's the whole portfolio."
The only wrinkle in ABC's November numbers is ongoing viewer erosion from Wednesday-night lynchpin "Lost," whose planned four-month break to avoid reruns seems increasingly risky. Next year, Mr. McPherson is considering adopting the model popularized by Fox's "24": running the entire season without reruns or a scheduling break, launching in the fall-or even in January.
"That would be a great way to run that show," he said. "We think about that. This year, having 'Lost' off the fall schedule entirely seemed like one risk too many to take. But now we have more strength in our schedule."
Tops in total viewers
In addition to CBS's second-place finish, the network won among total viewers for the sixth consecutive year. But it was down 14% in the 18-to-49 demo compared to last November, more than any other network, partly due to a strong lineup of specials last year.
"It's not the shows; there's a lot of specials we didn't have this year," said Kelly Kahl, CBS senior exec VP-program operations. "This year we wanted to go for stability instead of big miniseries."
At NBC, second place almost feels like first. NBC is up 15% in the demo due to "Sunday Night Football" and fall's biggest breakout hit, "Heroes." It's the only network with year-to-year growth. The only caveat: Take football out of the equation, and NBC is essentially flat. But in a season when every major network is down (even sweeps winner ABC is off 7%), flat is reason to celebrate.
Winners and losers
"The big news is how well NBC did," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media. "If you look at the sweeps last year, they were a full rating point behind where they are now. They made vast strides. I'd say ABC and NBC are winners, and CBS and Fox are disappointments."
For the CW, which launched a new channel while competing with the twin ghosts of UPN and the WB, the numbers were troubling. The network was 7% below UPN's average last November and flat with the WB's.
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James Hibberd is a reporter for TVWeek.