Even the smallest Academy Awards audience on record was enough to hand ABC a rare ratings win last week, by a hefty margin of 3 million viewers over second-place NBC.
It also helped that ABC preempted more than 11 hours of mostly sure-to-be-low-rated entertainment programs in favor of Shock and Awe coverage, most of which was not included in the network's weekly average because it ran without advertising.
ABC was not the only network engaged in Operation Calculate and Pull last week. It just did so on the largest scale, preempting its entire Monday, Thursday and Friday lineups.
NBC scrapped nearly 7 1/2 mostly low-rated prime-time hours, including Thursday's "ER" rerun and Friday and Saturday at 8. Fox felt compelled to run war coverage "sustaining" -- that is, without advertising -- for nearly three hours, yanking its entire anemic Thursday lineup. CBS, in the first year of a $6 billion deal with the NCAA, preempted two-plus hours of regular prime-time programming for sustaining coverage of the war in Iraq, compared with 11 hours for NCAA men's basketball tournament play.
Here's a look at the week's Oscars and March Madness:
Cable news. Since troops moved into Iraq last Wednesday, cable news networks have collectively pulled in about 14 million viewers a night, compared with about 4 million last month. Predictions that CNN, which owned the Gulf War story in '91, would overtake cable news front-runner Fox News Channel have not materialized; FNC has led the pack, with a five-day average of 4.2 million viewers, besting CNN's 3.5 million and MSNBC's 1.7 million average.
The Academy Awards. ABC's broadcast of the Oscars posted its smallest audience yet, 33 million viewers, which is 8 million fewer than last year. ABC says the show got ambushed by breaking news. It's true -- the cable news networks clocked nearly 10 million more viewers Sunday night than the previous Sunday.
Monday "Fear Factor." President Bush's speech warning Saddam Hussein to clear out in 48 hours proved the perfect lead-in for NBC's reality series, which scored its biggest audience ever for a rerun -- 14.7 million viewers.
"Reba" and nearly every WB drama except "Angel." WB gave early pickups for next season to a half-dozen scripted series, including a two-year renewal for Aaron Spelling-produced "7th Heaven" that will take the family drama into its ninth season. Spelling's "Charmed" also will be back, as will Warner Bros. TV's "Gilmore Girls," "Everwood" and "Smallville" and 20th Century Fox TV's "Reba." No mention of "Angel," and "Dawson's Creek" has already announced it's calling it quits at the end of this season.
"Veritas: The Quest." ABC yanked the low-rated lead-in to "The Practice" from its Monday lineup indefinitely.
"Are You Hot?" It took a war with Iraq to make ABC suits realize that this "reality" series was in bad taste and to dump the final two episodes on Saturday night when surely no one will see them.
"The Family." It took just three Tuesday broadcasts to prove to ABC suits that they could do worse with a reality series than with "NYPD Blue" reruns. The network ordered nine episodes of the family competition series, which it says will air this summer.
"Profiles From the Front Line." ABC worried that viewers would confuse this reality series, shot months ago, with news coverage and scrapped the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced program.
"Let's Make a Deal." NBC has deposed Bush -- Billy, that is -- and this game show remake may never again see the light of day.
March Madness. The Academy Awards weren't the only franchise that got stomped on by the war last week. Thursday's NCAA tournament opener came in with ratings 30 percent behind last year's opening night; Friday was down 23 percent.
The week's 10 most watched programs, in order: ABC's Academy Awards broadcast; Fox's Tuesday "American Idol"; ABC's "Oscar Countdown 2003"; Fox's Wednesday "American Idol"; CBS's Wednesday "Survivor"; NBC's "Friends," "Fear Factor" and "Scrubs"; and CBS's "Judging Amy" and "JAG."