Sweeps sweet to CBS, NBC

— The rich got richer during television's February ratings "sweeps," with CBS maintaining its hold as the most popular network and NBC winning among the youthful demographic it targets.

Executives at both networks proclaimed victory Tuesday, even though the sweeps period continues through today. The TV industry uses ratings during February, May, July and November to set local ad rates.

Through Sunday, CBS' prime-time February average of 14.1 million viewers is up 1 percent over February 2003. UPN was the only other broadcast network to see viewership gains over last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Most heartening for CBS and NBC -- which will win among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic for which advertisers pay a premium -- is they stuck primarily with regular programming.

NBC is most enthusiastic about "The Apprentice," which entertainment chief Jeff Zucker called "a huge game-changer for us." The Donald Trump boardroom game was seen by 20 million people Thursday, despite going head-to-head against "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," television's most popular program.

NBC has contracted with Trump for two more editions of the game next year, Zucker said.

"I feel a lot better sitting here today than I did three months ago, facing (losing) 'Friends' and 'Frasier' without 'The Apprentice,"' Zucker said.

Fox is down 24 percent from last February, even though its signature show, "American Idol," is actually doing better than last year.

ABC is down 1 percent in viewership, although that number is deceptive. The Academy Awards, which was seen by 43.5 million people on Sunday, was included in the sweeps.

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