War, or so the slogan goes, is not healthy for children and other living things. TV ratings can be added to that list, too.
Prime-time favorites, from Friends (down 7.6 million viewers) to ER (preempted), took a hit as news divisions covering the U.S.-led attack on Iraq commandeered the airwaves, beginning with the first strikes last Wednesday.
Not that viewers were complaining. An estimated 70.1 million watched the first night of the Baghdad bombing on the eight major news networks: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC.
If there's honor in such things, NBC's coverage was the top-rated among the broadcast networks, with 18.2 million viewers. CBS (13.2 million), ABC (10.9 million) and Fox (7.8 million) trailed. ABC's third-place finish came amid criticism of Peter Jennings and crew's tardiness--the Alphabet's news team didn't make it to air until 30 minutes after its chief rivals, NBC and CBS.
Among cable newsies, Fox News Channel put it to CNN, which made its rep covering Persian Gulf War I. The upstart is outdrawing the veteran, 4 million viewers to 3.6 million through Monday, according to Nielsen Media Research.
On Sunday, even as so-called "shock and awe" turned shocking and awful with casualties mounting, audiences took time out, surfing over to ABC's coverage of the 75th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Steve Martin.
As previously reported, the toned-down, red-carpet-free Oscar ceremony was watched by 33 million and sampled by an estimated 62 million during the three-and-a-half hour Chicago coronation. The network says viewers tuned in and out of the telecast at the highest rate ever, owing to the war and/or Michael Moore.
And while the telecast goes down as the lowest-rated Academy Awards ever, it also goes down as the most-watched show of the prime-time week ended Sunday. It also goes down as the top-rated award show of the season, outdrawing the Emmys (20 million) and Grammys (24.8 million), neither of which had to compete with round-the-clock breaking news--or Michael Moore.
ABC, led by the Oscars, was the most-watched network of the war-torn week. The Alphabet scored its rare win by averaging 13.4 million viewers. NBC, with weaker--but solid--showings from its mostly intact Thursday lineup, finished second, with 10.3 million. Fox took third, with 10 million.
Despite three top-10 shows, CBS fell to fourth, with 9.3 million. The Eyeball's black eye came courtesy the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Ratings for the opening rounds on Thursday and Friday nights were about 25 percent below 2002's. Blame the air ball on bad timing, with the war less than 24 hours old when action began.
CBS, which farmed some of its games out to rival ESPN, so the Eye could provide more Iraq coverage, can only hope things turn around this weekend, if not the next decade. The network is in the first year of an 11-year, $6 billion deal with the NCAA.
Other ratings losers: ABC's back-biting reality series The Family, watched by just 5.3 million (61st place) before being ticketed for hiatus by the network, along with Tales from the Front Line and Veritas: The Quest, neither of which aired last week. Are You Hot? The Search for America's Sexiest People, also bumped by war, is being shelved for at least another two weeks.
Fox's American Idol, meanwhile, proved itself mortal to the wages of war. Tuesday's pre-war edition brought in its usual 21.1 million viewers (second place); but Wednesday's follow-up, in which crooner Charles Grigsby was voted off the island, was watched by 17.2 million (fourth place), down 3.6 million from its season-to-date average.
About the only show that didn't suffer ratings erosion was the military-minded JAG. The Tuesday night CBS drama drummed up its usual 14 million, which, last week, was good for a top-10 finish.
Elsewhere, UPN proved itself surprisingly spunky and/or the WB surprisingly lame, as the netlets drew about even: 2.87 million viewers to 2.89 million, respectively. Rain or shine, war or peace, WWE Smackdown! (63rd place, 4.8 million) was UPN's most-watched show; the just-renewed Reba (66th place, 3.8 million) was the standard-bearer for the Frog.
Here's a rundown of the 10 most-watched shows for the week ended Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research:
1. 75th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 33 million
2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 21.1 million
3. Oscar Countdown 2003, ABC, 19.5 million
4. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 17.2 million
5. Survivor: Amazon, CBS, 16.4 million
6. Friends, NBC, 14.9 million
7. Fear Factor, NBC, 14.7 million
8. Scrubs, NBC, 14.2 million
9. Judging Amy, CBS, 14.167 million
10. JAG, CBS, 14 million