- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sweeps losing ground?

This year’s November sweeps ratings period, buffeted by economic upheaval and declining statistical relevance to networks, saw ABC and CBS on top among adults 18 to 49 and total viewers, respectively, TVWeek.com reports.

Only smaller networks the CW and MyNetworkTV avoided audience erosion in their target demographics.

ABC claimed its fourth straight win in the November sweeps among the pivotal 18-to-49 demographic.

Yet CBS won its eighth straight November in total viewers, pulling in an average 12.1 million viewers throughout November, Variety said.

Both ABC and CBS showed declines. At day 26 of sweeps - which ended Nov. 26 - CBS was down 3 percent in total viewers versus 2007’s November sweeps, while ABC had dropped 11 percent from this time last year. NBC ranked third, and Fox took fourth among viewers 18 to 49.

Held four times a year, sweeps ratings help local stations set advertising rates. That traditionally has led broadcast networks to rely on programming stunts to boost viewership during those periods.

The standard sweeps hullabaloo, such as stunt casting, theme weeks and specials, was rare this go-round, with press releases announcing sweeps material seeming to be more of an afterthought than anything else.

The movement away from big stunts is explained in part by changes in how Nielsen Media Research Inc. is measuring and delivering ratings data.

“Sweeps are still important to the smaller markets who get [viewer] diaries four times a year,” says Shari Anne Brill, senior vice president and director of programming at the media buyer Carat.

Larger markets that use electronic people meters give local broadcasters immediate data on viewership, meaning stations in those markets don’t need to wait until sweeps to get an idea of how the market is doing.

NBC’s “30 Rock” was one of the few shows to roll out big-name stunt casting during this sweep, bringing in Steve Martin, Jennifer Aniston, much of the cast of “Night Court” and Oprah Winfrey for its November episodes.

Miss Winfrey’s episode propelled the series to its second-highest rating ever, but it’s hard to determine whether it was her celebrity wattage or “30 Rock” star Tina Fey’s exposure as Gov. Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live” that caused the viewer surge.

Overall, television’s few specials didn’t move the ratings needle much. Fox’s heavily promoted “24: Redemption” just barely beat the show’s last original episode, aired in May 2007, among adults 18 to 49.

Miss Brill says she thinks economics also affected networks’ plans for sweeps stunts, as the rocky economy may have forced them to tighten belts on the creative side. Media stocks have been rocked of late.

NBC’s flagship “Heroes” has been beleaguered as well, declining 29 percent versus last November’s sweeps. ABC’s Wednesday night continues to thud, hitting series lows during the month. Fox’s “House,” while still high-rated, is down significantly from last year - partly because of its move from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“The only ray of sunshine is the CW,” Miss Brill says.

The CW, though down 9 percent from last November among adults 18 to 49, is up 21 percent among women 18 to 34, the network’s target demographic. “Gossip Girl” has led the way as the show’s combination with “One Tree Hill” on Mondays, lifting the night 177 percent in the demographic.

HBO eyes Buscemi

Steve Buscemi, who had a recurring role on HBO’s “The Sopranos,” is in talks to star in “Boardwalk Empire,” Martin Scorsese’s drama pilot for the cable biggie, the Hollywood Reporter says.

Based on Nelson Johnson’s book, “Empire” chronicles the 1920s origins of Atlantic City, N.J. Mr. Buscemi would play Nucky Johnson, a cunning businessman who runs a liquor distribution ring at the onset of Prohibition. Mr. Scorsese will direct, THR says.

Holiday watch

• Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (8 p.m., ABC) - Fred Astaire narrates this 1970 stop-motion feature on how the legend of Kris Kringle/Santa Claus (voiced by Mickey Rooney) came to be.

• Meet the Santas (9 p.m., Hallmark) - After several postponements, Nicholas “Nick” Claus (Steve Guttenberg) and Beth Marshall (Crystal Bernard) finally are getting married on Christmas Eve. It’s a short honeymoon for the newlyweds: Immediately after the wedding, they plan on taking over the “family business” from Nick’s dad, Santa Claus (John Wheeler) who has officially retired.

• Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports

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