It was also a big week for the so-called "weblets," with the WB using a record-setting bow for "Smallville" to top rival UPN for the first time this season. The WB drew its largest audience since February 1999 while UPN again gained year to year on four of its five nights and is showing the biggest improvement of any network this season.
According to Nielsen, NBC easily topped runner-up Fox in the coveted adults 18-49 demographic, and inched past second-place CBS in total viewers. NBC claimed seven of the frame's top 10 shows in the demo (CBS had the other three) and five of the top 10 in total viewers (CBS had the other five).
With "Friends" (25.58 million viewers, 12.2 rating, 32 share in adults 18-49) easing to No. 2, "ER" moved atop the weekly rankings (26.71 million, 13.0/32) for the first time this season.
NBC's Thursday lineup claimed the week's top five spots in adults 18-34.
CBS, whose "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" were the No. 2 drama and comedy, respectively, almost caught NBC in total viewers. But the network missed its chance when its Sunday shows -- "60 Minutes," "Education of Max Bickford" and "CBS Sunday Movie" -- each fell to season lows.
CBS' highlights included the largest audience in its two seasons for Monday comedy "Yes, Dear" (15.72 million) and a top-10 finish for "Survivor: Africa" in its second week.
"60 Minutes" (14.80 million) wasn't alone among newsmagazines to hit season lows. In fact, six of the broadcasters' eight magazines hit valleys, with the other two barely avoiding the same fate.
Collectively, these eight hours attracted 81.2 million viewers, down 15% from the previous week's 95.2 million -- a sign that viewers are growing tired of terrorism coverage that offers little fresh information.
Fox, whose week consisted of six nights of baseball playoffs, delivered its largest audience (11 million) since the week of the World Series nearly a year ago and moved up to second in 18-49 for the first time this season. Its only scripted series of the week, Tuesday's "That '70s Show" and "Undeclared," won their slots in key demos.
ABC slipped to a rare fourth-place finish in total viewers and tied CBS for third in adults 18-49. ABC's new Wednesday laffer "According to Jim" continues to shine, despite critical brickbats, but first-year dramas "Philly" and "Thieves" are struggling after solid bows last month.
CBS rolled Oct. 22, winning the night for a second straight week in viewers and 18-49. "Everybody Loves Raymond" (21.21 million, 7.8/18 in 18-49) was the night's top show for the fifth time in as many weeks this season.
The likes of quasi-celebs Darva Conger and Kato Kaelin boosted NBC's "Weakest Link" to its second-best numbers of the season (11.69 million, 4.6/12 in 18-49), but lead-out "Third Watch" posted ho-hum marks with its season premiere (10.98 million, 4.3/10).
ABC's "Monday Night Football" (14.64 million, 6.2/17) again got the better of Fox's baseball playoffs (10.76 million, 3.8/10). In New York, though, the Yankees' game more than doubled the rating of the Giants' football contest.
The WB's "7th Heaven" and "Angel" hit season highs in target demos of females 12-34 and teens.
Fox won the night (16.0 million, 5.9/16 in 18-49) as a pair of championship series baseball games -- airing on a regional basis nationwide -- helped maximize local ratings for the teams involved (Seattle, New York, Atlanta, Phoenix).
ABC was a strong second behind "The Practice" (16.34 million, 6.6/16), "Alias" (10.76 million, 5.2/12) and another strong showing for repeat theatrical "Liar Liar" (11.23 million, 4.8/13).
It wasn't a very good night for some original cable movies, with Showtime's "In the Time of the Butterflies" (480,000, 0.1/0 in 18-49) especially struggling. And TBS original "Robin Cook's Acceptable Risk" (2.23 million, 0.9/2) was topped by a repeat of theatrical "An American President" (2.56 million, 1.0/2) on sister cable channel TNT. Fox Family did better with "When Good Ghouls Go Bad" (3.80 million, 1.1/3).
ABC took the night in 18-49 for a fourth straight week behind repeat film "The Birdcage" (2.4/8), with Fox's baseball a close second (2.3/8).
"The District" was the night's top show (12.15 million, 2.9/9), boosting CBS to another win in total viewers.
VH1's nearly six-hour "Concert for New York" (6:59 p.m.-12:49 a.m.) averaged 4.9 million viewers, while thepremiere of box office dud "The Legend of Bagger Vance" (3.75 million, 1.9/6 in 18-49) gave HBO one of its strongest movie performances in months.
NBC rolled for a fourth-straight week, led by "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (15.44 million, 5.0/15 in 18-49).
CBS' "That's Life" (7.69 million, 2.5/8 in 18-49) hit a season high and gave the network its best scores with regular programming in the 9 p.m. hour since Feb. 15 ("The Fugitive"). For the first time, it topped ABC's down-trending "Thieves" (2.4/7) in the demo.
"Thieves" may have dipped, but lead-out "Once and Again" hit a season high in 18-49 (3.2/9).
The WB won its two hours in femmes 12-34 behind season highs in key demos for its new laffers. "Reba" led the way again, netting a best-yet 6.1/26 in female teens and 2.1/8 in persons 12-34.
NBC won the night rather easily, although CBS was on top from 8:30 to 10 with the second half of "Survivor" and "CSI" (23.04 million, 8.7/21), which took its hour in 18-49 for the first time this season. At 10, though, CBS' rookie drama "The Agency" (9.06 million, 3.3/8) fumbled away much of that audience.
Game 2 of baseball's American League Championship Series (Yankees-Mariners) gave Fox its best Thursday (10.5 million, 3.4/9 in 18-49) since December ("Home Alone 2").
ABC's "According to Jim" (11.86 million, 5.3/14 in 18-49) built on its "My Wife and Kids" demo lead-in for a third week in a row, powering the network's improving comedy block. NBC still won the night, with "The West Wing" (20.79 million, 7.4/18) and a special "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (19.32 million, 6.8/18) dominating the final two hours.
UPN's "Enterprise" (8.16 million, 4.0/11) again won its hour in male demos and was up week to week.
The WB's drama combo was also up from its week-earlier premieres.
Fox won the night in adults 18-49 for the first time this season, while CBS' dramas led the way once again in 25-54 and total viewers, but the night's biggest noise came from "Smallville," which bowed to the largest opening-week aud ever for a WB program.
NBC's "Frasier" fell to its lowest firstrun 18-49 score (6.3/15) since moving back to the night last October, but it still teamed with lead-out "Scrubs" (5.8/14) to win the hour.
CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond" hit a series high in adults 18-34 on Oct. 15, anchoring the network's strong 8-9:30 comedy block.
Elsewhere, the WB's "7th Heaven" ascended to another season high (9.28 million) and a lousy NFL matchup still left ABC's "Monday Night Football" ahead of Fox's postseason baseball.