According to Nielsen Media Research, the network topped second-place Fox in the coveted adults 18-49 demographic by 17% and runner-up ABC in total viewers by 26% -- its biggest margins of victory this season except for Super Bowl week.
CBS claimed five of the week's 10 most-watched shows, led by "Survivor: The Australian Outback" (27.55 million), and captured seven of the top 10 in adults 18-49, also led by "Survivor" (11.7 rating, 34 share); all four of its Monday laffers landed in the top 10. (Each adults 18-49 rating point represents 1.24 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total.)
While "Survivor" continues to plug along, dominating an otherwise sluggish week for the networks, the real story for CBS during the week came from Thursday's other emerging powerhouse, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
The rookie crime drama, which has really blossomed since staking the post-"Survivor" time slot, was the No. 2 program of the week (23.24 million, 9.1/24 in adults 18-49) with an original episode at 9, while a repeat episode at 10 also placed in the top five.
The big week has enabled CBS to pull within an average of 290,000 viewers of first-place ABC in the battle for bragging rights as the season's most-watched network.
The other networks certainly made things a bit easier for CBS during the frame as ABC, NBC and Fox all fell to season-low scores in adults 18-49.
ABC, dragged down by three feeble movie performances, fell 34% off its pace of a year ago in 18-49. Its midseason comedies continue to score solid ratings, though, led by Wednesday's "My Wife and Kids," which won its hour in key demos for a third straight week.
ABC and Fox remain within striking distance of front-runner NBC for the seasonlong adults 18-49 race, with ABC just a tick behind and Fox trailing by two ticks with a little over five weeks to go. NBC dipped to its lowest-ever in-season adults 18-49 average (3.2/9), again finishing fourth.
NBC appears to be a lock, though, to win the season in adults 18-49 as it will likely capture this week (thanks to "The Weakest Link" and its Thursday lineup) and is the favorite to win the four-week May sweep that closes out the season. The biggest boon for NBC will come when ratings laggard the XFL is erased from its schedule after this week.
Fox was second in adults 18-49 and first in adults 18-34 -- its 10th win in 11 weeks. The network also again dominated among teens, capturing 10 of the week's top 11 programs.
In the evening news arena, ABC continues to inch closer to NBC in total viewers -- separated by just 110,000 -- while exhibiting its largest advantage over NBC among adults 25-54 since September 1996. Both ABC and NBC were up vs. the same week a year ago, but CBS was down.
The April 15 network premiere of "Deep Impact" (12.49 million, 4.9/11 in adults 18-49) gave CBS its first Sunday 9-11 p.m. victory in adults 18-49 and 25-54 since May ("Jesus"). CBS also won the night in total viewers (12.7 million) and adults 25-54 (4.7/13).
ABC was slowed down by a repeat of last year's Easter-themed "Miracle Maker" (5.20 million, 1.7/5 in adults 18-49), which led into below-average marks for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (16.06 million, 4.1/10 in adults 18-49).
Audiences were also cool toward NBC's repeat of "Mary, Mother of Jesus" (6.04 million, 2.0/5 in adults 18-49), which kept NBC in the cellar from 9 to 11.
An all-comedy repeat lineup boosted Fox to victory in adults 18-49 and all younger demos, with "The Simpsons" ranking as the night's top program in 18-49 (5.9/17).
"The Oblongs" (2.49 million, 1.1/3 in adults 18-49) is faring pretty well in the 8:30 slot for the WB, matching the audience for its lead-in, a repeat "Steve Harvey," and ranking as the network's top Sunday show in male demos.
Fox's reality series dominated the night in demos, including a 5-share victory over CBS in adults 18-49.
"Walker, Texas Ranger" returned to the CBS lineup by winning its 8 p.m. hour in total viewers (8.65 million), an immediate 30% improvement over the season finale for former slot occupant "That's Life" (6.66 million). CBS' "Kate Brasher" ended its six-episode run with weak marks (7.88 million, 1.7/6 in adults 18-49), failing to build on its lead-in for the first time.
Playoff action resulted in only a slight uptick for the XFL on NBC (2.55 million, 1.0/4), which remained fourth.
ABC's premiere of "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" sunk to the network's lowest picture marks of the season (3.38 million, 1.4/5 in adults 18-49), faring decently only among teens (2.5/10).
ABC prevailed on the night in total viewers (10.6 million) and adults 18-49 (3.1/10), with a winning performance from "20/20" (12.77 million, 4.1/13) proving the difference. Return of the network's "Making the Band" fizzled, with its second half-hour finishing fourth in viewers (5.01 million) and third in adults 18-49 (1.7/7).
CBS' disappointing "The Fugitive" fell to fourth in its hour in total viewers (6.21 million), behind drama competition "The Lone Gunmen" on Fox (6.31 million), which attracted its largest audience in five Friday tries.
NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" fell to lowest firstrun marks ever on Friday (11.58 million, 3.9/12 in adults 18-49).
CBS' "Survivor" and two episodes of "CSI" dominated NBC's "How It All Started" night, nearly doubling NBC in adults 18-49 (9.5 vs. 4.9) and more than doubling NBC in total viewers (23.2 million vs. 10.3 million).
The 9 p.m. "CSI" topped the first hour of the two-hour 1994 "ER" pilot by a commanding 104% in adults 18-49 (9.2 vs. 4.5). And at 10, the crime drama delivered what's easily CBS' best 18-49 rating in the hour (7.6/21) -- 43% better than the final hour of "ER" (5.3/15).
"Survivor" appears to have leveled off for now, easing a bit to a season low in viewers (27.55 million) and most demos. Still, it topped the pilot episodes of "Friends" and "Will & Grace" on NBC by 139% in adults 18-49 (11.7 vs. 4. 9).
ABC tied NBC for the night's adults 18-49 lead, with the former's new comedy "My Wife and Kids" averaging a winning 11.46 million viewers and a 4.7 adults 18-49 for its two half-hours -- although these are the show's lowest scores in three tries. At 9:30, "The Job" drew its largest audience yet (10.01 million) while retaining a solid 87% of its adults 18-49 lead-in from "The Drew Carey Show" (4.7/12 vs. 5.4/15).
Fox's "Blockbuster Entertainment Awards" was a big hit with teens (4.0/15) but left the network an uncompetitive third in both adults 18-49 (2.7/8) and 18-34 (2.8/9). It was up by 9% in total viewers vs. last year's June kudocast (6.44 million vs. 5.89 million).
The premiere of police series "Special Unit 2" (3.59 million, 1.6/5 in adults 18-49) improved upon UPN's recent scores in the leadoff hour, building in its second half-hour and faring best in men 35-49 (2.0/6) and teens (1.8/7).
The WB's "Jack & Jill" (2.43 million, 1.2/3 in adults 18-49) didn't see much of a bump with its season finale, retaining 76% of its "Dawson's Creek" lead-in among adults 18-34 (1.6 vs. 2.1).
Fox's "Boot Camp," airing on a special night, dominated its 9 p.m. hour in most demos, including a 5-share victory over ABC's "What About Joan" in adults 18-49.
VH1's "Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin" (1.82 million) drew 16% fewer viewers than last year's comparable "Divas 2000" (2.17 million), making it the least watched of four "Divas" specials the cable channel has aired.
CBS cruised April 9 behind all first-run episodes of its comedies and drama "Family Law." With NBC's "Third Watch" in repeat, "Law" won its hour in adults 18-49 (3.4/9) for the first time this season.