'CSI' the Nation's Most Popular TV Show

05/22/2003 at 12:30 PM EDT

Wednesday brought not only the finale to "American Idol" but a conclusion to the May 2003 sweeps period, and the results are now in: CBS's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," starring William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger, is the nation's favorite program.

Nielsen Media Research also once again declares CBS the most popular network, reports the Associated Press.

CBS averaged 12.5 million viewers in prime-time this season, a 2 percent increase from last year. NBC came in second with 11.7 million, a 14 percent drop -- although abut half of that decline is because NBC had the Winter Olympics last year.

Ailing ABC turned up third (10 million), closely trailed by one-time maverick FOX (9.8 million), and both networks saw increases in viewership. ABC was greatly helped in the numbers by its broadcasts of the Super Bowl and the Oscars.

Given that such importance is placed upon attracting the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic group, NBC emerged as the No. 1 network in that category for the seventh time in eight years, although the race tightened, with FOX, CBS and ABC following, in that order.

In its analysis, AP notes that this was the first season that the 3-year-old "CSI" was so popular. Its average of 26.2 million viewers each week easily beat second-place "Joe Millionaire" on FOX, which had 22.9 million during its limited run. NBC's "Friends," last season's top show, came in third this time, with 21.8 million viewers.

Five of the 10 most popular shows were reality, including two "Survivor" installments and "American Idol," while the three most popular scripted series this season ("CSI," "Friends" and "ER") were the three most popular last season, too.

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