NEW YORK (AP) – The rich got richer during television’s February ratings “sweeps,” with CBS maintaining its hold as the most popular network and NBC winning among the youthful demographic it targets.

Executives at both networks proclaimed victory Tuesday, even though the sweeps period continues through Wednesday. The TV industry uses ratings during February, May, July and November to set local ad rates.

Through Sunday, CBS’ prime-time February average of 14.1 million viewers is up 1 percent over February 2003. UPN was the only other broadcast network to see viewership gains over last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Most heartening for CBS and NBC – which will win among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic for which advertisers pay a premium – is they stuck primarily with regular programming and had few specials during the month.

“We have the best and deepest roster of programming,” said CBS President Leslie Moonves. “There is such a stability in programming now and in the future.”

NBC is most enthusiastic about “The Apprentice,” which entertainment chief Jeff Zucker called “a huge game-changer for us.” The Donald Trump boardroom game was seen by 20 million people Thursday, despite going head-to-head against “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” television’s most popular program.

NBC has contracted with Trump for two more editions of the game next year, Zucker said.

“I feel a lot better sitting here today than I did three months ago, facing (losing) “Friends’ and “Frasier’ without “The Apprentice,”‘ Zucker said.

Fox is down 24 percent from last February, even though its signature show, “American Idol,” is actually doing better than last year. What’s missing is “Joe Millionaire,” a huge hit in 2003 that wasn’t repeated this season.

Fox’s reality show, “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance,” drew nearly 21 million people for its climax last week. Fox entertainment President Gail Berman said it’s unclear whether that show will return.

ABC is down 1 percent in viewership, although that number is deceptive. The Academy Awards, which was seen by 43.5 million people on Sunday, was included in this February’s sweeps and wasn’t last year.

The return of Regis Philbin in “Super Millionaire” last week was only a modest success for ABC. After an opening night seen by 17.5 million people, none of the subsequent four showings was seen by more than 13.5 million.

ABC has announced “Super Millionaire” will return in May.

“We have been able to build a foundation of shows, but none is a hit,” said Susan Lyne, ABC entertainment president. “That’s what’s keeping us in fourth place right now.”

UPN’s February ratings improved primarily due to Tyra Banks and “America’s Next Top Model,” while the WB is down.

ABC won the prime-time competition last week due to the Oscars, averaging 14.4 million viewers (9.1 rating, 14 share). CBS had 12.3 million viewers (8.0, 13), NBC had 11.1 million (7.4, 12), Fox had 10.1 million (6.1, 10), UPN had 4 million (2.7, 4), the WB had 3.9 million (2.6, 4) and Pax TV had 1.1 million (0.7, 1).

NBC’s “Nightly News” won the evening news ratings race, averaging 11.3 million viewers (7.7 rating, 15 share). ABC’s “World News Tonight” had 10.3 million (7.2, 14) and the “CBS Evening News” 8.5 million (5.9, 11).

A ratings point represents 1,084,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation’s estimated 108.4 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of Feb. 23-29, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: “Academy Awards,” ABC, 43.5 million; “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 28 million; “Countdown to Oscars 2004,” ABC, 27.7 million; “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 26.6 million; “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 23 million; “Friends,” NBC, 22.8 million; “Survivor: All-Stars,” CBS, 22.2 million; “ER,” NBC, 21.9 million; “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance,” Fox, 21 million; “CSI: Miami,” CBS, 20.3 million.

On the Net:

AP-ES-03-02-04 1646EST

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