Thanks to an overpowering run from Survivor, a surprise smash in C.S.I. and the fading popularity of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, CBS shook up Thursday nights and edged out ABC to score a first-place ratings victory for the 2000-01 season, which officially ended Wednesday.
What started out as another strong year for the Alphabet Network turned into a neck-and-neck battle, when Survivor: The Australian Outback debuted in January and wreaked havoc on NBC's powerful Thursday night lineup. The result? Survivor ended up the top-rated show of the year, averaging 29.8 million viewers.
"It's probably the most competitive season we've seen in a very long time," said ABC entertainment cochair Lloyd Braun. "All of us are one big hit away from being number one. We didn't have the big hit this year, CBS did."
ABC had its "big hit" last year, as the Millionaire juggernaut took up the top three spots in the season's top 10. This year, Millionaire remained strong (three installments still remained in the top 10), but the shows were nowhere near as powerful. On average, the installments lost 10 million viewers--the bulk of them, younger viewers prized by advertisers. And no thanks to CBS, Millionaire's Thursday-night ratings dropped 34 percent over last season.
ABC is cutting back on its dose of Regis next season, going from four episodes a week to two.
CBS, meanwhile, found more strength from its Monday lineup of comedies and used the attention-grabbing power of Survivor to launch TV's biggest rookie drama of the year, C.S.I. The Vegas forensics series landed in 10th place overall this season, averaging 17.8 million viewers.
Overall, CBS averaged 12.53 million viewers, up 1 percent from last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. ABC landed in second with 12.51 million, down 12 percent; NBC averaged 11.6 million, down 6 percent and Fox pulled in 9.6 million, up 7 percent.
After experiencing a 17 percent drop last season, Fox ended up the most improved network thanks to its pseudo-salacious hit, Temptation Island, which averaged 16.6 million viewers. The series will have a tougher challenge next season when it moves to Thursday nights, against an already-crowded field of competitors.
For its part, NBC managed to hold its ground against CBS' assault on Thursday nights, as the Peacock snagged this season's ratings crown among adults 18-49--the youthful demographic that advertisers love. But that, too, was a tight race, as Fox ended up just three-tenths of a ratings point behind NBC, and just eight-tenths of a ratings point separated NBC from fourth-place CBS.
As for the junior nets, both UPN and WB remained virtually deadlocked, with the WB edging out UPN by just 10,000 viewers. 7th Heaven remained the WB's highest-rated series this season, averaging 6.9 million viewers, while WWF Smackdown! once again ruled UPN, pulling in 7.2 million.
Here's a recap of the season's top 20 shows:
1. Survivor: The Australian Outback, CBS, 29.8 million viewers
2. ER, NBC, 22.4 million
3. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (Wednesday), ABC, 20.1 million
4. Friends, NBC, 19.7 million
5. Millionaire (Sunday), ABC, 19.4 million
6. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 19.1 million
7. Millionaire (Tuesday), ABC, 18.8 million
8. NFL Monday Night Football, ABC, 18.5 million
9. The Practice, ABC, 18.3 million
10. CSI, CBS, 17.8 million
11. Law & Order, NBC, 17.7 million
12. Will & Grace, NBC, 17.3 million
13. The West Wing, NBC, 17 million
14. Millionaire (Thursday), ABC, 17 million
15. Temptation Island, Fox, 16.6 million
16. Becker, CBS, 16.1 million
17. Frasier, NBC, 15.9 million
18. 60 Minutes, CBS, 15.8 million
19. Just Shoot Me, NBC, 15.6 million
20. Millionaire (Friday), ABC, 15.4 million