The Eye network's first November victory in total viewers since 1998 was assured with a strong second-place finish on Thursday thanks to "Survivor" and "CSI" and a big Saturday win boosted by the Christmas classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
Factoring in preliminary Nielsen figures for Wednesday through Saturday, CBS led NBC by more than 600,000 viewers with four nights to be counted (13.46 million vs. 12.84 million).
In the hotly contested battle for adults 18-49, NBC held a slim advantage over Fox through Saturday, with a projected rating of 5.06 compared with 4.92. Fox was expected to pull even or nearly catch the NBC Sunday behind the television premiere of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace," but the final three nights of the sweep figure to favor NBC.
Even if it falls short by a tick or two, Fox should finish with its most competitive November ever among adults 18-49. The network was boosted early this month by the World Series.
Projected adults 18-49 standings through Saturday: NBC (5.1/13), Fox (4.9/13), CBS (4.4/12) and ABC (3.8/10). In total viewers: CBS (13.5 million), NBC (12.8 million), Fox (11.8 million) and ABC (10.2 million).
NBC recorded its customary victories on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, then posted a rare second-place finish on Saturday with "It's A Wonderful Life," which delivered the network's best 18-49 movie score on the night (preliminary 3.0/9) since last November's broadcast of "Twister."
NBC's big Thursday was fueled by Brad Pitt's guest appearance on "Friends" (preliminary 24.1 million viewers, 11.0/31 in 18-49), as the comedy rose by 51 percent in young adults vs. its Thanksgiving performance of last year (7.3/22).
It combined with a "Friends" rerun at 8:30 (10.1/27 in 18-49) to give NBC a solid 62 percent edge over an original episode of "Survivor: Africa" (preliminary 6.5/18 in 18-49).
The "Law & Order" franchise powered NBC on other nights, as the original series was the No. 1 show on Wednesday (preliminary 17.8 million, 6.3/18 in 18-49) and "SVU" was tops Friday (preliminary 14.8 million, 4.2/13). NBC also did well on Tuesday with a Jennifer Lopez concert special, winning the opening hour in 18-49 (4.5/12).
CBS, whose Tuesday victory in total viewers was led by "Judging Amy" (15.73 million), received a week-two bounce with its second of three Garth Brooks concert specials on Wednesday. The show, telecast from the USS Enterprise in Norfolk, Va. , averaged about 9.6 million viewers, up from the previous week's 8.3 million, to finish second at 10.
CBS was a strong second on Thursday, led by an original "CSI" at 9, which won its hour in total viewers (preliminary 22.6 million) and was just behind NBC's one-hour "Will & Grace" in 18-49 (preliminary 8.4/22 vs. 8.8/23). CBS didn't do much on Friday with the network premiere of "The Rugrats Movie" (preliminary 6.1 million viewers, 1.6/5 in 18-49), although things picked up a bit at 10 with its 'N Sync concert special (preliminary 7.7 million, 2.7/9).
CBS won big Saturday as its annual airing of "Rudolph" (preliminary 13.1 million viewers, 4.7/15 in 18-49) dominated at 8 and "Touched by an Angel" (preliminary 12.9 million, 4.1/12) and "The District" (preliminary 13.4 million, 3.7/11) also took their hours.
Fox's highlights included a second-place finish in 18-49 (and first place in 18-34) on Wednesday. Network's "Bernie Mac" topped its comedy competition, "Drew Carey" on ABC (preliminary 3.9/11 vs. 3.5/10 in 18-49), and finished second overall to NBC's "West Wing."
Fox then struggled on Thursday with "The Wedding Singer" (preliminary 4.4 million viewers, 1.5/4 in 18-49) but rebounded with another Adam Sandler picture on Friday. "Big Daddy" (preliminary 7.6 million, 3.3/11) gave the network the night in adults 18-34 and most male demographics while topping NBC head-to-head from 8 to 10 in 18-49 (3.3/11 to 3.0/10).
ABC's best news came from new Friday regular "America's Funniest Home Videos," which gave the network its largest audience in the night's leadoff hour (preliminary 9.7 million viewers) this season.
On Tuesday, ABC's "NYPD Blue" looked strong, topping Fox's "24" by 2 shares in 18-49 (4.9/12 vs. 4.1/10), while "Philly" followed with its best 18-49 rating in seven weeks (3.9/11).