Gary Susman
May 26, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

With May ratings sweeps and the 2003-04 TV season both ending on Wednesday, which network gets top bragging rights? Depends on which measure you choose. CBS is claiming it’s the most-watched network, for both the key month of May and for the whole year (averaging 13.1 million viewers for the season, according to Nielsen), while NBC says it’s the most-watched network among the viewers advertisers crave, those aged 18 to 49, for the same periods. And after Wednesday’s ”American Idol” season finale, Fox may well be able to claim the year’s most-watched series, with ”Idol” likely to dethrone longtime favorite ”CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” So far, ”Idol” has averaged 25.8 million viewers to ”CSI”’s 25.6 million.

Last week, in fact, Fox beat NBC among both total viewers and the coveted 18-to-49ers, thanks to the semifinal ”Idol” rounds. Last Tuesday’s competition drew 23.6 million viewers, while Wednesday’s results show drew 22.4 million, finishing at No. 2 and No. 4 for the week. The week’s most-watched show, however, was ”CSI” (25.4 million), while the introduction of characters from the forthcoming ”CSI: New York” spinoff during an episode of ”CSI: Miami” finished third. TV’s other monster franchise, NBC’s ”Law & Order,” drew 19.5 million for 12-year-veteran Jerry Orbach’s departure (No. 6), while two episodes of ”Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” also finished in the top 10 (at No. 7 and No. 10). Among other notable finales, ABC drew 13.1 million to the last ”Bachelor” (No. 15) but just 7.7 million (No. 57) to this year’s final ”Alias.” The series finale of ”Angel” on the WB drew 5.3 million, about a million more than the show’s usual audience.

For the week, CBS averaged 12.1 million viewers. Fox finished second with 10.1 million. NBC drew 9.6 million viewers, followed by ABC with 8.5 million. The WB, powered by ”Angel” and ”7th Heaven,” finished ahead of UPN, 3.7 million to 2.7 million.

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