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CBS Cruises, but SpongeBob Sops Up Viewers

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

CBS has posted an across-the-board ratings victory for the fifth straight week, with "CSI" scoring the largest audience of any . . .

We interrupt this tedious TV ratings report to bring you an important bulletin about SpongeBob SquarePants, whose search for his beloved pet snail -- missing-and-presumed-escargot on the mean streets of Bikini Bottom -- attracted a colossal 8 million mollusk lovers to Nickelodeon. That's nearly 6 million more than caught Greta Van Susteren's effort to find missing white chick Natalee Holloway in Aruba on Fox News Channel and more than 7 million more than watched Nancy Grace shed big crocodile tears for the missing Holloway on CNN Headline News in July.

Here's a look at the week's found and lost:

WINNERS

"SpongeBob SquarePants." Friday's "Where's Gary?" episode became the most watched television program this year among kids 2 to 11 years old on any network, broadcast or cable (excepting Super Bowl coverage). Nearly 5 million of them tuned in to find out whether SpongeBob would find his runaway pet snail. For comparison's sake, last week's No. 1 broadcast show among kids 2-11 was ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." It clocked 1.75 million kids in that demographic.

"Monday Night Football." ABC's coverage of the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts averaged nearly 22 million viewers, the franchise's biggest crowd in nearly five years.

"Freddie." ABC picked up this lame sitcom for the rest of the season after it flattened the return of Pamela Anderson's "Stacked" on Wednesday.

"E-Ring." NBC picked up this nutty drama for the rest of the season because, although it averaged only 10 million viewers last week (which, granted, was its biggest audience yet), it's from Jerry Bruckheimer.

"ER." After getting cleaned for the past couple of weeks by CBS's "Without a Trace" among the 18-to-49-year-olds that advertisers covet, NBC's doc drama beat "Trace" in the golden age bracket on Thursday. That's probably owing, we are shocked and awed to report, to the guest appearance of -- John Stamos.

"CSI: NY." Thanks to a crossover episode with "CSI: Miami," "NY" copped more than 19 million viewers on Wednesday -- up more than 30 percent compared with this season's average.

"Close to Home." CBS moved this new Bruckheimer drama to Friday, after "Ghost Whisperer," and scored nearly 50 percent more viewers in the time slot than it had this season to date, while "Close" snared about 2 million more viewers than in its old Tuesday slot, battling NBC's "Law & Order: SVU."

LOSERS

"Saturday Night Live in the '80s: Lost and Found." In February, we learned that more than 12 million are interested in the first five years of "SNL"; this month, we learned that only 7.9 million care about "SNL" in the 1980s. Which means I'm not alone and millions like me think this show hasn't been so interesting since the '70s.

"7th Heaven." The week that "7th Heaven" logs its season high is the perfect time to announce its cancellation. Though this show is down about 20 percent compared with last year, averaging a little more than 5 million viewers each week, it's still one of WB's stronger shows. But it's an older series and older means "more expensive" because, naturally, people expect raises. Sounds like cost-cutting time at WB.

"Arrested Development." Virtually canceled.

Martha Stewart . Good thing Martha's version of "The Apprentice" is doing such a lousy number -- 6.4 million viewers on Wednesday -- because no way was NBC going to bring back this show for a second edition, according to the network and exec producer Mark Burnett.

"Night Stalker." For the second time in 30 years, ABC has canceled "Night Stalker." In the mid-'70s, it was gone in one season; this time it's gone after six episodes -- last week's falling to just under 4 million viewers.

The week's 10 most watched programs, in order, were: CBS's "CSI"; ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Monday Night Football"; CBS's "Without a Trace"; ABC's "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy"; and CBS's "CSI: NY," "Survivor: Guatemala," "CSI: Miami" and "NCIS."

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