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NBC honcho: Viewers have good reason to flee

The top networks are suffering through a lackluster fall season partly because "some of the programming just sucked," NBC's entertainment chief said Tuesday.

Jeff Zucker, who has already canned two high-profile new series, said though networks question some of Nielsen Media Research's ratings numbers, TV executives need also look in the mirror.

"Our programming is not that good, and the Nielsen sample is bad. End of story," said Zucker, speaking to the International Radio & Television Society Foundation.

During the first week of the important November sweeps period, CBS was the only one of the six major networks to draw a bigger audience than the same week last year, Nielsen said.

That's consistent with the season as a whole. Fox, which benefited from a thrilling baseball postseason, is the only network to see gains season-to-date.

Zucker cited NBC's Coupling, already canceled, as NBC's biggest mistake of the season. Another series the network had high hopes for, Rob Lowe's The Lyon's Den, has also been taken off the air.

All the network entertainment chiefs speaking before the foundation Tuesday directed anger toward Nielsen. They don't quite believe Nielsen's numbers that say viewership is off 10 percent this season among men 18 to 34, a crucial age group for advertisers.

Zucker said he doesn't believe it's a coincidence that Nielsen's measurement of young male viewership has increased over the past three weeks after network complaints became public.

Young men, who may have been distracted by DVDs and video games, began returning to TV with the World Series, Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said.

Loftus said Nielsen received few complaints last year when the company's sample showed an increase in viewership among young men.

"When the numbers are up, it's the programming," he said. "When the numbers are down, it's Nielsen."

Zucker also said the networks had put on several new shows that appealed to females, such as NBC's Miss Match, CBS's Joan of Arcadia and ABC's Karen Sisco and Hope & Faith.

"Where's Chuck & Matt?" Zucker said. "If we just keep putting on shows that aren't necessarily going to appeal to young men, we're making a mistake. We're standing at the front of that line."

Susan Lyne, ABC's entertainment chief, said the lack of new shows that viewers were anticipating may have reduced viewership in general.

CBS's victory last week was fueled partly by a strong performance by Survivor, which defeated Friends head-to-head for the first time in a year and a half. The CBS 75th anniversary special Sunday was seen by 18.2-million viewers.

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