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Week's numbers not good news for CBS

CBS Evening News marked a low point in a storied history last week with its smallest average audience in at least 10 years, perhaps ever.

The evening newscast with Dan Rather, for several years third in the ratings behind NBC and ABC, lately has been losing even more ground to its rivals.

It was watched last week by an average of 6.5-million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. NBC's Nightly News had 8.9-million and ABC's World News Tonight had 8.2-million.

Discounting holidays and weeks when the news was pre-empted, researchers going back to 1993 could not find a worse week for the CBS Evening News. Ratings for these flagship newscasts have been steadily eroding, so you would probably have to go back to the early days of television to find a lesser-watched week.

"Clearly, we want to reverse that trend," CBS News President Andrew Heyward said Tuesday. "I don't think it's something to be overly concerned about. It's an issue but not something I want to overreact to. I think the program itself journalistically is as good as it has ever been."

Rather, 71, has anchored the CBS evening newscast since taking over for Walter Cronkite in March 1981. Cronkite was dominant for years, and Rather spent much of the 1980s atop the ratings, before being passed, first by ABC's Peter Jennings and then NBC's Tom Brokaw.

His job is not in any danger, according to his boss, who praised Rather as "full of energy and enthusiasm for the program."

"He's one of the best broadcast journalists ever," Heyward said. "I don't think he's the issue."

The ratings for last week were particularly heartening for NBC, since Brian Williams subbed for Brokaw as anchor, against Jennings and Rather. (Elizabeth Vargas sat in for Jennings on Friday.)

That will be the evening matchup starting in December 2004, when Brokaw retires from Nightly News. His competitors have looked forward to that as a time to make ratings inroads, but the lengthening of NBC's lead makes that job tougher.

A slow week in prime time was dominated by producers Jerry Bruckheimer (with the CSI shows and Without a Trace) and Dick Wolf (with his Law & Order shows). The two creators were responsible for seven of the top eight most-watched shows last week.

NBC won the week, averaging 7.8-million viewers. CBS had 7.7-million, Fox had 5.8-million, ABC had 5.6-million, UPN had 2.9-million, the WB had 2.3-million and Pax TV had 860,000.

1. CSI, CBS, 13.8

2. Without a Trace, CBS, 12.4

3. CSI: Miami, CBS, 12

4. Law & Order, NBC, 11.5

5. SVU, NBC, 10.5

6. Criminal Intent, NBC, 10.4

7. Raymond, CBS, 10.4

8. Law/Order-9 p.m., NBC, 10

9. King of Queens, CBS, 10

10. Friends, NBC, 9.1

11. 60 Minutes, CBS, 8.9

12. Love or Money, NBC, 8.7

13. Primetime Thur., ABC, 8.6

14. Dateline-Tue., NBC, 8.6

15. Am. Juniors-Tue., Fox, 8.2

16. 60 Minutes II, CBS, 8.1

17. Dateline-Sun., NBC, 8.1

18. Last Comic, NBC, 8

19. According to Jim, ABC, 7.9

20. Amazing Race, CBS, 7.9