Without the benefit of a teary farewell episode on its schedule last week, NBC dropped to third place in the Nielsen ratings race, behind "CSI"-fueled CBS and "American Idol"-laden Fox.
NBC, which has drawn big numbers this May sweeps period from the finales of "Friends" and "Frasier," fell back to earth last week, averaging 9.6 million viewers. CBS won the last full week of the television season with 12.1 million viewers, Fox was second with 10.1 million and ABC was fourth with 8.5 million.
NBC had its least-watched Thursday night during a sweeps period since at least 1991. The network repeated two "Friends" episodes, including the finale, and an episode of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." And on Friday, NBC's Daytime Emmy Awards show picked up the award for its smallest audience ever, 8.4 million, down about 200,000 from last year's previous low.
CBS cruised to victory with an assist from last Monday's "CSI: Miami." Its audience of 23.1 million was the highest since its September 2002 premiere. CBS executives are happy to note that the episode featured the cast of next season's "CSI: New York."
CBS hit a speed bump on Tuesday, however, with its tribute to "60 Minutes" executive producer Don Hewitt, who is retiring after 36 years. "Tell Me a Story: The Man Who Made 60 Minutes" garnered just 6.9 million viewers, about 31/2 million fewer than what the now-canceled "The Guardian" averaged in the same slot.
The season finale of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" drew its largest audience ever, with 13.2 million viewers. However, the network's other reality success story, "The Bachelor," up against "American Idol" and a "Law & Order" season-ender, drew the smallest finale audience yet, with 13 million.
The WB dredged up little interest in its new "American Idol" spoof, "Superstar USA." Last Monday's premiere averaged 3.5 million viewers, a million fewer than what "Everwood" did in the time slot this season.
The week's 10 most watched programs, in order, were: CBS's "CSI"; Fox's Tuesday "American Idol"; CBS's "CSI: Miami"; Fox's Wednesday "American Idol"; CBS's "Without a Trace"; NBC's "Law & Order" and Tuesday 10 p.m. "Law & Order: SVU"; CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Two and a Half Men"; and NBC's Tuesday 9 p.m. "Law & Order: SVU."