NBC takes early lead in fall race

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Fresh off its first winning week of the TV season-September 24 through 30-NBC continues to be the early victor, posting big viewership numbers heading into week two.

"NBC is the clearly the only bright shining star," said Lyle Schwartz, senior VP-media research for WPP Group's the Media Edge, New York. "All the other networks, except for UPN, are down. But it's early yet."

NBC's new Monday hourlong drama about a tough female coroner, "Crossing Jordan," is one of the biggest surprises among ad executives. It scored well in its second week, posting a 5.3 Nielsen rating and 13 share for adults age 18 to 49, and beating veteran shows such as CBS's "Family Law."

NBC's comedy "Scrubs" made an even bigger impact. In its Oct. 2 debut, the show earned a 6.9 rating and 16 share among adults 18 to 49. "Scrubs" not only won its Tuesday time period, but retained virtually all the audience of its lead-in, "Frasier." Typically, networks shoot to retain at least 75% of viewers when launching new shows on the backs of established hits.

Moreover, the rookie show trounced "Spin City," airing its season premiere with the return of Michael J. Fox. "This is not anemic competition," said David Marans, senior partner of media research for WPP's MindShare, New York. "This a very powerful start."

UPN also saw strong performance from its new Star Trek show, "Enterprise," (a 7.0 household rating and 11 share), as well as Wednesday's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." During the "Buffy" premiere, the show earned the highest rating and share in its five-year-history. Among adults 18 to 49, it earned a 3.8 rating and 10 share.

"JAG," an hourlong show about military lawyers on Viacom's CBS, dominates its 8 p.m time period on Tuesday, nearly doubling its viewership over other competitors. It earned a household 10.9 rating and 17 share. "If they continue, we could see a lot more of this-military shows could replace reality," Mr. Marans said. As further evidence of this, an episode of the NBC drama "The West Wing" focusing on terrorism dominated its Wednesday night slot with a 9.8 rating and a 24 share.

It's been a mixed bag for Walt Disney Co.'s ABC so far. Its premiere of "Alias," a CIA-drama airing on Sundays, scored big, with a household rating of 9.4 and a 14 share for its first show of the season-commercial-free and sponsored by Nokia. But its once-mighty "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" game show has been suffering. Media analysts believe its key older demographic, adults 50 and over, has defected to cable news services to keep up with developments surrounding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"All of cable is up to a 48 share from a 43, and that's [primarily] because of cable-originated news programming," said Sharianne Brill, senior VP- audience research for Aegis Group's Carat USA, New York.

She also notes that the Big Four share dropped to a 46 from a 49 at this time last year.

General Electric Co.'s NBC had its share of losers, too. In a much-maligned 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday performance, the network's rookie series "Emeril" earned a Nielsen household rating of 5.2 and an 8 share, followed by "Three Sisters" with a 5.4 rating and 8 share. That put the network in last place for the time period.

With the season only two weeks old, however, it's too early to call a winner. Fox, for instance, only introduced one show, "Pasadena," which airs on Fridays and posted a low 3.1 household rating and 5 share.

This season is, of course, like no other, with viewers focusing on more serious issues-all the more reason to wait to decide how shows are faring. "It's a little more complicated," said Larry Blasius, senior VP-director of U.S. broadcast negotiations for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna Global USA, New York.

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