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 V.14 No.22 | June 2 - 8, 2005 

Idiot Box

Season Finale

And the winner is ...

Stick a fork in this couch potato, the 2004-2005 TV season is officially over. Now we can all sit back, relax and absorb plenty of summer reruns and crappy reality show placeholders until the Fall 2005 season arrives sometime in September.

Of course, with May Sweeps over and the big season-ending finales spent, worried network execs have spent the last week or so crunching numbers. The big question in Burbank right now? Who won this season's ratings race?

Funny thing is, pretty much everyone is claiming victory this year--everyone, that is, except the poor old Peacock Network, but we'll get to that in a moment.

CBS stakes the claim for the biggest overall victor. The Eye Network dominated in terms of total viewers, pulling in an average 12.92 million viewers per night. The continuing success of “CSI” gave CBS a slightly older, largely male audience. The only black mark on the network's scorecard came from the pesky FOX network.

For the first time in its 20 year existence, FOX nailed down the most viewers in the 18 to 49 age range. This is the most coveted advertising demographic and any network that lands this group is normally considered the dominant network. The win was assisted by the powerhouse that is “American Idol,” the new hit that is “House” and the revived season of “24.”

CBS, still trying to dig itself out from under the shadow of the “Geriatric Network” label garnered from years of “Murder, She Wrote” and “Diagnosis Murder” episodes, has found plenty of reasons to poo-poo FOX's triumph.

One CBS executive sniffed that the 18 to 49 race was so close that FOX's win amounted to a mere 60,000 more viewers. CBS was also quick to point out that FOX's victory only came on the heels of the Super Bowl, a one-time event not considered part of normal prime-time programming. However you want to slice it, FOX is pulling in more young viewers than CBS, and has plenty of reason to celebrate.

ABC, meanwhile, saw more growth than any other network. In the wake of its disastrous 2003-2004 season, the Alphabet Net was up 12 percent in the 18 to 49 bracket, thanks largely to its three new hits: “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and “Grey's Anatomy.” “Grey's,” a midseason replacement, was such a surprise hit that ABC immediately booted the fairly popular “Boston Legal” and awarded the timeslot to the female-centric doctor drama.

Unfortunately, NBC was not a receiver of good news. The network plunged a precipitous 19 percent in the 18 to 49 category. That sent the network tumbling from first place last season to fourth place this season. That's the farthest any network has ever fallen in a single season. I bet there are a few NBC suits rethinking that decision not to fork out for another season of “Friends.”

Perennial celler-dwellers UPN and WB, meanwhile, duked it out for fifth place scraps. WB lost about 9 percent of its overall audience, slipping behind UPN, which stayed about the same. WB still remains stronger in the 18 to 49 bracket, if that's any consolation.

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