Only the Good Skew Young

Not resting on its laurels, NBC, which last week won the battle for 18-49 ratings for the fifth time in the past six seasons, was the first network to begin promoting its new fall show schedule May 23, when it aired a promo spot during Law & Order touting spinoff Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Although NBC came in third in both viewers and households this season, its execs stress that 18-49 ratings are crucial for advertisers.BC execs are also aware that Gail Berman, entertainment president for Fox, which improved its 18-49 rating this season by an 0.3 and fell just short of NBC’s 4.8 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research, has said her network’s goal is to beat NBC next season in the desired demo. And NBC is taking Fox’s challenge seriously. The week before the Criminal Intent promo ran on Law & Order, the veteran NBC show recorded a 9.2 in 18-49s, the highest rating ever in that demo for the show.

NBC won the 18-49 demo race on three nights this season — Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – while Fox also won three nights — Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Berman said the Fox schedule next season will enable the network to be more competitive on every night.

“If NBC thought things were tough at 8 p.m. on Thursdays [after CBS moved Survivor there during midseason], things just got a whole lot tougher,” said Berman about Fox’s decision to move Temptation Island from Wednesdays to Thursdays at 9 p.m. next season. Berman believes Temptation Island will take 18-49 viewers from NBC’s Will & Grace and Just Shoot Me.

Fox, which this season finished fifth on Thursday nights in the 18-49 demo, down 10 percent over last season with a 2.7, has nowhere to go but up. NBC averaged a 9.7 in 18-49 on Thursdays, down from the 9.9 for the 1999-2000 season. NBC did not face CBS’ Survivor and CSI from the start of the season last year. On Fridays, Fox has decided to go after female viewers, NBC’s strength on that night. Young-skewing hour Dark Angel moves to Friday at 8 p.m., against Providence, while Fox premieres a soap, Pasadena, at 9 p.m., against NBC’s Dateline.

Yet overtaking NBC in the 18-49 ratings is not expected to generate barrels of additional ad revenue for Fox. “Fox is very well priced in that demo already,” said one buyer.