'The West Wing' Ratings Slip and Slide

10/14/2002 at 11:00 AM EDT

Former President Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize last week, while last month, President Josiah Bartlet's NBC series, "The West Wing," won the Emmy for best dramatic series.

But while the real-life ex-chief has been on a high since his honor was announced, there hasn't been such good news for the TV prez, played by Martin Sheen, 62. "The West Wing" is slipping in the ratings.

Over the past two weeks the show has posted its lowest numbers since its first season in 1999, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Compared to a year ago, when "West Wing" viewership soared above 20 million -- the audience has consistently shrunk each week this fall. Last week, the show slipped to 16 million viewers, though it did still win its time period.

Most alarmingly, Reuters reports, the NBC series is losing adult viewers under age 50, the demographic most coveted by advertisers. The cause, says the Los Angeles Times, seems to be the stiff rival on ABC, the romantic reality show "The Bachelor."

Last Wednesday, 6.8 million of "The West Wing" viewers were aged 18 to 49, far behind the 8.3 million viewers in the same age group that had tuned into "The Bachelor" -- which had 12.8 million viewers overall.

"The West Wing" also is being heavily challenged by the CBS reality show "The Amazing Race" and two new dramas, UPN's update of "The Twilight Zone" and the WB's "Birds of Prey."

As the L.A. Times points out, the ratings slump for the respected political series could not come at a worse time: NBC and the show's producers, Warner Bros. TV (which, like PEOPLE, is part of AOL Time Warner) have yet to close a deal that would continue the series beyond this season.

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