'Friends' faces fewer viewers in key 18-49 demo

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NBC's "Friends" will lose ground in the key 18 to 49 demographic during the upcoming 2002-2003 TV season. Although it will remain No. 1, viewers within that group are expected to drop 8%.

Those are findings of an informal Advertising Age survey of media buyers aimed at isolating the top 20 shows for the 18-49 demographic for the fall TV season. Of new shows, only three are expected to hit the top 20 for that demographic. Of returning shows, seven that rated highly last year among adults 18-49 are expected to gain steam with that target group this fall.

A program's performance in the demographic is crucial, since a full 55% of last year's upfront dollars went toward shows most popular with the 18-to-49 age group.

Buyers predict some returning programs that will outperform their actual rating from last season will include CBS's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," NBC's "Scrubs" and "The West Wing" and Fox's "The Simpsons." The three new shows expected to be among the top 20 for the 18-49 age group are CBS' "CSI: Miami" and "Still Standing" as well as NBC's "Good Morning Miami."

Even though three new shows may make the top 20 list, that doesn't insure their success. If they can't retain 75% or more of the respective lead-in shows' audience, they could be pulled. For instance, at a 6.04 rating, "Still Standing" would retain 77% of the audience of "Everybody Loves Raymond;" "Good Morning Miami," at a 7.82 rating, would retain 88% of the viewers of "Will & Grace."

"Friends" isn't alone. "ER" is predicted to also slip 3%, but remain the No. 2 rated show for the demographic. "Friends" had an incredible year this past season, according to media executives, improving over the year before, a rare occurrence for a veteran sitcom. But the odds of the show improving again would be even more difficult-even though the 2002-2003 season will probably be its last.

sophomore `scrubs'

Moving up for NBC will be its sophomore-year "Scrubs," due to climb some 47% due to its new time slot at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday behind "Friends," perhaps the most valuable time slot on network TV. But if "Scrubs" doesn't do better than its projected 7.81 rating, it will probably be pulled, said media executives, because "Scrubs" would only retain 71% of the "Friends" audience. NBC executives are looking for "Scrubs" to retain at least 80% of the "Friends" audience.

"CSI" will remain as the third-best 18-to-49 show in prime-time TV-because the show, going into its third season, has a lot of upside, according to buyers.

News Corp.'s Fox is estimated to see some improvement in its softening-but-still-strong Sunday night block. It is moving "King of the Hill" back to its traditional time slot of 8:30 p.m-which buyers feel make it a better 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. hour-package with "The Simpsons," which airs at 8 p.m. As a result, both shows are expected to best last year's rating.

Overall NBC placed nine shows in the top 20 for adults 18 to 49; CBS had six and Fox, four. Walt Disney Co.'s ABC had only one-"Monday Night Football."

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