- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

CBS sweeps up

The just-completed sweeps period further cemented CBS’ status as TV’s ratings champion.

Still, NBC executives are crowing over their network’s gains in youthful-demographic numbers, according to the Associated Press.

Executives at both networks declared victory this week even though the sweeps period — which generally wraps before month’s end — continued through Sunday.

The TV industry uses “sweeps” ratings during February, May, July and November to set local ad rates.

Through Sunday, CBS’ prime-time February average of 14.1 million viewers was up 1 percent over February 2003. UPN was the only other broadcast network to see viewership gains over last year, Nielsen Media Research reports.

Most heartening for CBS and NBC — which won among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic for which advertisers pay a premium — is that both networks primarily stuck with regular programming, airing just a few specials during the month.

NBC is most enthusiastic about “The Apprentice.” The Donald Trump boardroom game was seen by 20 million people last Thursday, despite going head-to-head against “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” TV’s biggest draw.

NBC has contracted with Mr. Trump for two more editions of the game, to run next year.

Over at Fox, ratings slumped 24 percent from last February even though “American Idol” is performing better than last season. What’s missing is “Joe Millionaire,” the smash 2003 hit that couldn’t be resurrected this season.

Reality treated Fox much better with “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance,” which drew nearly 21 million people for its climax last week. Fox entertainment President Gail Berman told AP it’s unclear whether that show will return. Such is the dark side of gimmick-laden reality shows. Repeating the trick often isn’t possible.

ABC is down 1 percent in viewership, although that number is deceptive. The Academy Awards, seen Sunday by 43.5 million people, was included in this February’s sweeps but not in last year’s.

The return of Regis Philbin in “Super Millionaire” last week was just a modest success for ABC. After an opening night seen by 17.5 million people Feb. 22, only 13.5 million tuned in for its subsequent four showings.

“We have been able to build a foundation of shows, but none is a hit,” says Susan Lyne, ABC entertainment president. “That’s what’s keeping us in fourth place right now.”

UPN’s February ratings improved primarily because of supermodel Tyra Banks’ “America’s Next Top Model,” while WB’s standings were down.

For the week of Feb. 23 through 29, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: “The Academy Awards,” ABC, 43.5 million; “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 28 million; “Countdown to Oscars 2004,” ABC, 27.7 million; “American Idol,” (Tuesday), Fox, 26.6 million; and “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 23 million.

Last-ditch effort

The powers that be at Fox are giving their fledgling comedy “Arrested Development” a final one-two jolt to earn renewal.

The New York Post reports that “Seinfeld” mainstay Julia Louis-Dreyfus will appear on a special “Development” to air March 17 after “American Idol.” The network hopes the choice time slot and choice casting will give viewers a fresh chance to check out what many believe is the best comedy of the new season.

The new episode finds Miss Louis-Dreyfus playing a blind attorney who falls briefly for Michael (Jason Bateman in a career-resurrecting role as the show’s lead). The episode also features Henry Winkler and “Saturday Night Live’s” Amy Poehler, who in real life is married to “Development” cast member Will Arnett (Gob).

Forgotten ‘Temptation’

Once upon a time, a film depicting Jesus Christ drew howls of protest — from church officials, not secular critics and Jewish groups.

That film, Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” will air Saturday at 8 p.m. on Bravo. The 1988 film, which earned Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy nominations, stars Willem Dafoe as an all-too-human Jesus. Barbara Hershey and Harvey Keitel co-star.

Many cringed at that treatment but raged in particular over the film’s love scene between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

“Temptation” also proved to be a bit much for some in Greece, Israel and India, countries where a series of bans was enacted against the film.

Couric on Blair

NBC’s Katie Couric sits down with Larry King tonight — talking about, among other things, her just-wrapped interview with disgraced New York Times journalist Jayson Blair. The ex-reporter is set to release his own take on his precipitous fall from media grace, titled “Burning Down My Masters’ House: My Life at the New York Times.”

Miss Couric has emerged as morning television’s biggest star on the “Today” show, with her upbeat interviews and glamorous girl-next-door appeal.

Miss Couric’s sit-down with Mr. Blair runs at 8 p.m. tomorrow, with excerpts airing on “Today” beginning Monday.

“Larry King Live” airs weeknights at 9 on CNN.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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