Series to do heavy lifting in fall sweeps

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Ongoing series like "CSI" and "Life with Bonnie" will take precedence over special-event programming in the November sweeps period-which began Oct. 31 and runs through Nov. 27-as the networks look to entice viewers to tune in to their regularly scheduled lineup for the rest of the season.

The month-long TV-ratings period, which determines what local stations' ad rates will be, will also offer a clearer picture of broadcasters' ability to deliver their audiences-with the anomalies of Sept. 11 and Major League Baseball playoffs left behind.

For ABC, this sweeps period is especially crucial. The struggling Walt Disney Co. network already made some gains this season-especially on Tuesdays with its sitcom series lineup including new shows "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" and "Life with Bonnie." ABC has fared well by trimming its losses so far-now only down 5% in adults 18-49 vs. a year ago, when it was down by more than 20%. Its "The Bachelor," for instance, has even beat NBC powerhouse "The West Wing" for a couple of weeks in adults 18-49.

under pressure

News Corp.'s Fox is also under pressure to perform, now that it will return to its regular programming of "That `70s Show," "Grounded for Life" and "24" on Tuesdays. In October, the baseball playoffs aired instead. Fox premiered the Tuesday lineup Oct. 26 and posted its best numbers ever for "24"-its critically acclaimed second-year spy series, as well as an overall surprise victory for Fox for the night in adults 18-49.

"It did seem to have an impact on ABC," Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior VP-programming analysis for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media, New York, said. Other analysts said General Electric Co.'s NBC, which is trying to build a new lineup around "Frasier" with "The In-Laws" and "Hidden Hills," was hurt.

NBC has the most to lose, analysts said. Already it's dropped 6% in adults 18-49 through the first five weeks of the season, including a big drop on Tuesdays, while CBS has gained 7%. On the first night of sweeps, ratings for NBC and CBS were a fraction apart.

"Sure, we are concerned," said Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment. Still, NBC is ahead in adults 18-49 for the first five weeks with a Nielsen Media Research 4.9 to CBS's 4.2. Viacom's CBS wants to keep that momentum.

`"Without a Trace' on Thursday is doing a lot better than `The Agency' [in that time period] the year before and `CSI' is doing a lot better," said Sharianne Brill, VP-programming analysis for Aegis Group's Carat North America, New York.

NBC will try once again to slow down CBS's "Survivor" and "CSI" power tag team with a "supersizing" of its three main Thursday comedies-"Friends," "Scrubs" and "Will & Grace." On Nov. 7, each will run 40 minutes rather than the usual 30 minutes.

all in the timing

With both "Friends" and "Survivor" starting at 8 p.m., NBC's strategy is to keep viewers for an extra 10 minutes, preventing them from turning on to the second half of the hour-long "Survivor."

AOL Time Warner's WB has rocketed to big ratings this year with newcomer "Everwood" and a still-growing "Smallville." The network is up 24% to a 2.1 in adults 18-49 rating so far after five weeks. Viacom's UPN, however, had ratings fall dramatically-its mothership, "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" saw its adults 18-49 rating fall 22%, to a 2.5 from a 3.2, and its new "Enterprise" is down a whopping 60%, to a 2.5 rating from 6.3.

some specials

While fewer special-event and theatrical movies are planned, the networks haven't abandoned the tactic. Films scheduled include three Julia Roberts vehicles-"Erin Brockovich" and "Runaway Bride" on NBC, and "My Best Friend's Wedding " on ABC, which also plans to air "Gladiator" and "Saving Private Ryan."

NBC has scheduled a remake of Stephen King's classic horror film, "Carrie," as well as a movie based on an old detective series, "Hunter: Return to Justice," and two separate music specials featuring Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

CBS will air "Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story," as well as "Martin and Lewis," a movie based on comic duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and it will also show "The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show." which appeared on ABC last year. ABC plans a Paul McCartney documentary, "Back in the U.S.," and "The Pennsylvania Miners' Story," based on the real-life news story of coal miners who survived 77 hours in life-threatening conditions this past summer.

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