Thanks to a thrilling World Series baseball nailbiter, the network dominated its competition last week and now is positioned to challenge NBC for some November sweep and seasonal demo crowns.
After spending the first month of the season biding its time while baseball playoffs preempted the heart of its entertainment schedule, Fox suddenly is a force to be reckoned with. In one week, the network has moved from fourth to second in the coveted adults 18-49 demographic, according to Nielsen, and has closed the gap considerably with front-runner NBC.
And if some of the shows it promoted heavily during the World Series ("24," "Temptation Island 2" and "Bernie Mac") can contribute, Fox should find itself on a level footing with NBC -- at least until February, when NBC airs the Winter Olympics for 17 nights.
For the week of Oct. 29-Nov. 4, Fox delivered its largest weekly audience (21.02 million viewers) and best adults 18-49 rating (7.4 rating, 19 share) since Super Bowl week in 1999. It topped its closest competitor by 51% in 18-49 (NBC) and by 63% in viewers (CBS).
Fox won in every key adult demo, even edging NBC among women.
The World Series, which comprised five nights of Fox's weekly schedule, wrapped with averages that were the best for the Fall Classic in four years: 24.5 million viewers (up 35% year-to-year), an 8.6 rating in adults 18-49 (up 20%), a 10.9 in men 18-49 (up 15%) and a 12.8 in men 25-54 (up 24%).
All five games last week finished in the top 10 in total viewers, led by Game 7 at No. 1 (39.08 million).
Overall, most male- or older-skewing dramas -- including UPN's "Enterprise," the WB's "Smallville," CBS' "JAG" and NBC's "The West Wing" -- fell to season lows opposite the World Series.
CBS, whose "CSI" held up well opposite baseball on Thursday, placed second for the week in total viewers and third in demos. The Emmy Awards on Sunday, although overwhelmed opposite the final game of the World Series, gave CBS its strongest Sunday since the Super Bowl.
NBC, whose Thursday was the only night to top Fox's World Series coverage, placed second for the week in all key demos. "Friends," the season's No. 1 program, had to settle for second last week in viewers (26.96 million) and 18-49 (13.5/33), but was the top draw in all female demos.
ABC, with no big events to prop up its numbers, fell well off the pace. It was represented in the week's top 20 only by "Monday Night Football," and got its best rating news from feature films airing on the weekend.
At the "netlets," UPN topped the WB in key measures for the fifth time in six weeks. UPN was led again by new arrivals "Enterprise" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," while the WB was buoyed by "Gilmore Girls" and "Reba."
In the back-and-forth evening news race, ABC moved ahead of NBC in total viewers. Through six weeks, the ABC newscast has shown the biggest year-to-year gains.
On Nov. 4, Game 7 of the World Series on Fox drew the largest ratings for a baseball game in 10 years -- more than double the audience of the Emmys on CBS. In nationals, the TV kudocast averaged 17.18 million viewers (off 13% from the average of the kudocast's last five years) and a 6.2/13 in adults 18-49 (down 22%).
The final hour of HBO's "Band of Brothers" drew 5.04 million viewers, the lowest for any of its nine weeks, but still impressive given the competition.
Fox rolled behind the World Series, winning the night by 13 shares over second-place ABC in adults 18-49 despite a blowout game. A repeat of Mel Gibson starrer "Ransom" continued ABC's strong run with movies, as the network's season-to-date 18-49 average on the night (3.2/10) is its best in five years.
HBO did very well with the premiere of Sandra Bullock theatrical "Miss Congeniality" (5.71 million, 2.7/8 in adults 18-49).
NBC won for the sixth time in as many weeks, led by best-since-March numbers for "Providence" (13.02 million, 4.2/14 in 18-49). At 10, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (14.58 million, 4.5/14 in 18-49) again dominated its hour, but inexplicably dipped well below its season averages.
In the 9 p.m. hour, audiences are gravitating toward CBS' "That's Life" and the WB's "Reba," both of which hit season highs. NBC's "Dateline" (10.72 million, 3.1/10 in adults 18-49) still won the hour, but it fell to a new low, while dramas "Thieves" on ABC (6.46 million, 2.4/7) and "Pasadena" on Fox (3.74 million, 1.6/5) are struggling.
"Reba" hit new highs in total viewers (5.34 million), adults 18-49 (2.0/6), adults 18-34 and all male demos. "That's Life" hit season highs (7.98 million, 2.6/8 in 18-49) and won its hour in 18-34 (2.2/8) and women 18-34 (2.9/10).
Actually, the WB's whole night looked strong, with new 8:30 laffer "Maybe It's Me" (3.70 million, 1.5/5 in 18-49) chipping in with its best numbers.
ABC's rookie newsmagazine "America.01" (6.62 million, 1.6/9 in 18-49) was an uncompetitive fourth in demos at 8, while CBS' "48 Hours" (7.24 million, 2.4/7) is struggling to find an audience at 10.
It was a great night for the networks, as seven of the week's top 12 programs in total viewers aired on the night (four on NBC, two on CBS and the World Series on Fox).
The six networks combined for an amazing 81 share of the available audience in women 18-34 at 8:30, with a repeat "Friends" commanding the biggest chunk (37).
"WWF Smackdown!" was the No. 1 show of the night in male teens (7.5/21), but it was down 29% year-to-year in adults 18-49 (2.2/5 vs. 3.1/8).
Baseball dominated, but was only a so-so player in its Achilles' heel demo: females 12-34. The WB's "Dawson's Creek," CBS' "The Amazing Race" and NBC's "Law & Order" won their hours by this measure.
One-hour special "A Concert for New York City," a repackaging of a marathon VH1 special, drew the smallest in-season audience on record for CBS at 10 (5.56 million).
Opposite Game 3 of the World Series on Fox (23.41 million, 8.2/21 in 18-49), younger-skewing shows did well, including the WB's "Gilmore Girls," which hit a new series high for a one-hour episode in women 18-34 (4.1/11).
ABC's animated Halloween duo of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" and "Boo to You Too, Winnie the Pooh" trailed only baseball in the 8 p.m. hour in adults 18-49 (average 4.7 rating) and adults 18-34 (4.2).
"Boo" also delivered the highest kids 2-11 rating for any entertainment program on any broadcast network (9.4/29) since "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on CBS last December.
ABC captured Oct. 29 behind the best 18-49 score for "Monday Night Football" (6.9/19) in five weeks.
Fox's "Boston Public" impressed in its sophomore season premiere (13.82 million, 6.3/16 in 18-49), but "Ally McBeal" looked sluggish as it kicked off its fifth season.