'News' bulletin: NBC back on top

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NEW YORK -- After two weeks of victories for CBS, "NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams" returned to first place in viewership, though all three network evening newscasts tied in the key news demographic.

"NBC Nightly News" averaged 8.2 million viewers for the week ended Friday, according to preliminary estimates released Monday by Nielsen Media Research. That compares with 7.7 million for "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric" and 7.6 million viewers for "ABC World News With Charles Gibson." NBC won the night all five days last week.

All three newscasts finished the week with a 2.1 rating in the adults 25-54 demographic. Final numbers will come out today.

Williams' boss, NBC Universal chairman Bob Wright, praised NBC's showing despite the hoopla surrounding Couric's move to CBS.

"Brian is back where God wanted him to be, at No. 1," Wright joked Monday afternoon during an Advertising Week session at the Museum of Television and Radio.

Since Couric's first newscast at CBS on Sept. 5, "CBS Evening News" has made the evening news war a real race for the first time in more than a decade. While the "CBS Evening News" was down 24% in viewership compared to its first week while ABC is up 10% and NBC is up 15% -- it's also ahead of where it was a year ago.

Meanwhile, Wright said Monday that NBC wanted to keep Couric before she bolted for CBS in the spring. The network had been talking to her representatives about a possible syndication window, but Wright said that with the experience of "The Jane Pauley Show," that idea seemed to cool in the past year. Wright said that NBC had made no secret of the fact that it was going to go with Williams to replace Tom Brokaw when he retired in December 2004.

"She never really raised her hand to go in that direction," Wright said.

Meanwhile, the contentious interview between President Clinton and "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace gave the Sunday public-affairs show the best household rating in metered markets since Dec. 14, 2003. Final ratings won't be available until later this week, but the telecast averaged a 1.9 rating/5 share in the metered markets, according to preliminary data released by Nielsen Media Research. That was enough to beat the competition, though perennial leader "Meet the Press" on NBC was pre-empted in a number of markets because of Ryder Cup coverage.
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