A ratings touchdown for ESPN

ESPN went bowling for ratings in an otherwise depressed week for TV viewing, with CBS emerging as the most-watched network for the 11th time in 14 weeks this season, based on viewing estimates issued Tuesday by Nielsen Media Research.

The combination of a Sunday-night NFL game and college bowl games lifted ESPN to a prime-time average of just more than 4 million viewers, placing the cable network fifth among all channels last week -- ahead of the WB and UPN networks, which, as with the major broadcasters, provided mostly reruns.

CBS, meanwhile, was paced by "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" -- a repeat of the show beat NBC, ABC and Fox combined on Thursday -- as well as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which helped the network finish first on Christmas night.

On the flip side, the network's annual telecast of the Kennedy Center Honors dropped 20% versus a year ago, due in part to its scheduling on a Friday, when viewing tends to be lower.

ABC also won a three-way showdown of Sunday movies with "The Sound of Music," against "Die Hard With a Vengeance" and "You've Got Mail."

Comparing local and national numbers, the Lakers-Sacramento game on Christmas -- as ABC kicked off its coverage of NBA basketball -- ranked first in the Los Angeles viewing area last week, but No. 38 on a nationwide basis.

Brian Lowry

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