After a week of Industry expectations that the Eye would take the sweeps title away from NBC for the first time since early '95, Columbia Broadcasting indeed squeaked through, winning the November ratings period by averaging 15.1 million viewers a night--a peacock's eyelash above NBC's 14.8 million.
ABC came in third but lost six percent of its audience share from the same period a year ago--perhaps snapping the final string keeping those clever yellow billboards from crashing down on embattled entertainment president Jamie Tarses.
Meanwhile, Fox, while finishing in its usual fourth spot, actually grew six percent from November '96 by averaging 12.3 million pairs of eyes.
Ratings during sweeps months, which occur three times a year (February, May and November), determine how much the networks can charge advertisers. Strong ratings for movies such as What the Deaf Man Heard (the highest-rated TV movie in six years) and Borrowed Hearts, as well as the miniseries Bella Mafia are largely credited with putting CBS in first place.
Still, the network shouldn't get too excited. When it comes to those advertisers, youth is almost as important as ratings, and when it comes to ratings among audience members younger than 50, CBS ranks a distant fourth. (NBC tops the prized adults 18-49 list, followed by Fox, ABC and, finally, the Tiffany net.)
And with most of its successful shows geared toward your grandparents--Touched by an Angel and 60 Minutes are the regular top 10 entries--the demographics for CBS probably won't shift anytime soon. "It's a huge, huge problem for them," Giles Lundberg, senior vice president of research for Fox, tells the Wall Street Journal.
But while the demographics aren't perfect, the bragging rights that come with any sweeps win are undeniable. And with NBC--which had dominated the numbers since setting up its Frasier-pillared Tuesday night and Seinfeld/ER "Must See" Thursday night several years ago--registering 10 percent fewer viewers than it did a year ago, more sweeps wins could be in Eye sight.