by Joal Ryan
May 22, 2003, 4:30 PM PT
In the 2002-03 TV season, Americans liked their stories the way their like their cuts of steak: Real and dead.
CBS' stiff-a-rific CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was the just-concluded tube year's most-watched prime-time show, averaging 26.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The Fox reality show Joe Millionaire struck it rich in second place, with 22.9 million.
Another unscripted Fox series, a little thing called American Idol, also had a Ruben Studdard-sized following. Some 33.7 million viewers--more stargazers last March's Oscars attracted--saw Wednesday night's season finale.
Wednesday was closing night for both the 2002-03 season and the May sweeps.
Overall, Idol's weekly Wednesday edition was the year's third most-watched show, with 21.9 million. The Tuesday installment was fifth, with 21.6 million.
The Eyeball saw big numbers from its top unscripted shows: Survivor: Thailand (21.2 million, sixth place) and Survivor: Amazon (20 million, eighth place).
In all, reality shows accounted for half of the top 10. Last season, only two such shows reached that height--the Africa and Marquesas editions of Survivor.
Series featuring actors playing people other than themselves and words written on paper by highly trained and strung professionals were best represented by NBC's Friends.
The long-running sitcom, now heading into what its stars swear will be its last, was the year's top-rated make-believe purposely funny show, in fourth place with 21.8 million viewers.
On the network scoreboard, CBS was first among all viewers, averaging 12.6 million, up 2 percent from last season. NBC was second, with 11.7 million, down 14 percent. ABC, likely benefiting from a slow start by Fox's bomb-dropping fall schedule, just edged the Idol-led network for third, 9.97 million to 9.96 million.
Among the demographically desirable (i.e., 18-to-49-year-olds), NBC was first, with Fox making things interesting in second.
CBS had four of the year's most-watched series; NBC and Fox, three each.
And then there's ABC. While Disney's Tragic Kingdom posted gains (up 3 percent among total viewers), it didn't land a show in the top 10, didn't land a scripted show in the top 30, didn't land a new sitcom or drama in the top 35.
It did, however, have Monday Night Football (17.1 million, 11th place), The Bachelorette (16.7 million, 12th place) and The Bachelor (14.5 million, 18th place).
Its most-watched non-contact, non-dating show was NYPD Blue (11.6 million, 35th place). Its most-watched new show was 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (11.1 million, 39th place), also its most-watched sitcom, period.
The network also had the TV year's most-eyeballed failure. My Big Fat Greek Life (12.1 million, 34th place) ranked as the highest-rated series to get the axe.
Providence, pulled from NBC's schedule last December, finished in a respectable 41st place, with 10.9 million viewers--more than the show that replaced it, Mr. Sterling (9.9 million, 64th place), and more than the like-minded drama that trumped it with a renewal notice, Ed (10.3 million, 52nd place).
The Peacock's Just Shoot Me pulled the biggest disappearing act, going from 20th place, with 14.4 million viewers in 2001-02, to 110th place and 6.6 million viewers in its abbreviated 2002-03 season.
Other losers: NBC's The West Wing, slipping from ninth place (17.2 million) to 23rd (13.5 million); ABC's Alias, from 58th place (9.7 million) to 78th (9 million); and ABC's Drew Carey Show, from 67th place (9.1 million) to 119th (5.4 million).
At least give Drew Carey credit for survival technique. His sitcom was the least-watched major network show to escape cancellation. ABC plans to bring back the blue-collar comedy for a summer run, and deploy it as a midseason replacement. It's also ordering more episodes of Carey's equally little-watched Whose Line Is It Anyway? (5.6 million, 118th place).
Overall, the biggest eggs were dropped by two ABC dramas, the big-budget Dinotopia and the Ben Afflecked Push, Nevada. Both ranked in 127th place, even though Push, Nevada had slightly fewer viewers, with 4.6 million. No matter how you count it, both were the least-watched shows on the Big Four networks.
Proving that not all reality shows are addictive, cold turkeys in that hot genre included: ABC's Are You Hot? (8.9 million, 78th place); Fox's Mr. Personality (ditto); and ABC's All American Girl (5.4 million, 119th place).
Elsewhere, the WB opened up a big lead over netlet rival UPN, averaging 4.1 million viewers (up 8 percent) to the latter's 3.5 million (down 18 percent).
The Frog's 7th Heaven (6.7 million; 105th place) was the most-rated netlet show.
A PAX show you didn't know existed, Body and Soul, proved it did, too, exist, as the caboose of the prime-time train--570,000 viewers, 186th place.
Here's a rundown of the 10 most-watched shows for the 2002-03 season, according to Nielsen Media Research:
1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 26.2 million