The 2002-03 TV season officially ended Wednesday, and three of the big four networks are declaring victory. CBS boasted it was the most-watched network, with the most-watched show, ”CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” NBC, however, claimed it was the most watched by younger viewers, the 18-to-49 demographic that advertisers prefer. Meanwhile, ”The American Idol” network, er, Fox, declared its own victory among the 18-to-49 set, just as it did during the last sweeps period in February, at the height of ”Joe Millionaire” mania.
The limited-run ”Joe” was, in fact, the year’s second most-watched series, averaging 22.9 million viewers , compared to 26.2 million for ”CSI,” according to Nielsen. Last year’s top show, NBC’s ”Friends,” was third this time around, with a typical audience of 21.8 million. Other top 10 entries included NBC’s ”ER,” the two editions of CBS’ ”Survivor,” and the two nights a week of ”American Idol.”
For the season, CBS averaged 12.5 million viewers (up two percent from last year), followed by NBC with 11.7 million (down 14 percent from 2002, when it aired the Winter Olympics), ABC with 10 million (probably saved from fourth place by the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards), and Fox with 9.8 million.
In separate conference calls with reporters this week, CBS’ Leslie Moonves and his NBC counterpart, Jeff Zucker, tried to spin the numbers their way. Moonves conceded that CBS still skews toward older viewers compared to NBC but insisted that it had the more profitable slate because its programs were less expensive to produce. (CBS is not spending $10 million per episode on ”Friends,” for example, though next season, CBS will make ”Everybody Loves Raymond”’s Ray Romano the highest-salaried actor in TV history.) Zucker, noting Moonves’ recent return to his acting career (he recently played himself on an episode of ABC’s ”The Practice”), said reporters shouldn’t believe everything Moonves says and suggested that his rival appear on NBC’s ”Meet My Folks” to take a lie detector test.