Put a fork in the 2005-06 TV season. For the fourth straight year, CBS was crowned the most watched network, with an average of 12.6 million viewers per week. Fox was able to crow as well for the second year in a row it was No. 1 among viewers ages 18 to 49, the group most coveted by advertisers. ABC didn't come up with a new hit, but its audience grew as Grey's Anatomy, Lost and Desperate Housewives remained hot, and Dancing with the Stars proved it had legs. NBC was the biggest loser, landing in fourth place. As for the season's other highs and lows...
WINNER: Dysfunctional Docs
Sure, the surgeons on ABC's Grey's Anatomy sleep around and House had a drug habit. But viewers are OK with bad behavior from heroes who heal. Fox's House saw its audience grow by 30 percent over last year, while Grey's went up 16 percent after its post-Super Bowl cliff-hanger episode.
LOSER: Commander in Chief
President Mackenzie Allen looked like she would have a lengthy stay in the White House when 16.4 million tuned in for her premiere. But it was downhill from there, as production delays and a revolving door of executive producers doomed the season's most anticipated show.
WINNER: American Idol
Instead of fading in their fifth year, Randy, Paula and Simon saw their best ratings ever. American Idol is now a cultural event. "It came on at the right moment," says Fox's programming exec Preston Beckman. "In uncertain times, it's given viewers something they can control."
LOSERS: WB and UPN
The two failed "weblets" will merge into CW this fall. Why couldn't they survive? Maybe one network could have prospered in courting viewers ages 18 to 34, but not two. The real losers are fans of good shows such as Everwood, which didn't make the cut at CW.
WINNER: The Unit
A likable star (Dennis Haysbert) hunting down terrorists was the simple formula for the highest-rated new drama of the season. "It's perfectly matched with the NCIS audience on CBS," says ratings analyst Steve Sternberg. "It's entertaining, and you didn't have to think too much."
NBC's The Office and My Name Is Earl are cool shows but big, broad comedy hits seem extinct. Only Two and a Half Men cracked Nielsen's Top 20. Sternberg says flops such as Joey especially hurt when compared to beloved reruns of Seinfeld, Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond.
WINNER: Deal or No Deal
NBC came up with the perfect game show for the short-attention-span generation. "There's a big decision being made every two minutes," says one exec at a competing network. "Bringing in the contestants' families that's kind of genius." Now the network must resist overexposing it.
ABC's Invasion, NBC's Surface and CBS' Threshold all proved it's tough for the genre to survive on broadcast TV. "The sci-fi audience is very loyal, but there aren't very many of them," says one exec. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves pointed out that even Star Trek wasn't a network hit.