There's no denying that CBS has the law on its side. This fall, the once-geriatric net won even the coveted adults 18-49 demographic and Thursday nights, both formerly the impenetrable domain of NBC (ratings information is season-to-date through Dec. 12). The credit goes, of course, to television's No. 1 show, CSI; its spin-offs, Miami (No. 3) and NY (No. 14); as well as the net's other body-bag blockbusters, Without a Trace (No. 4), Cold Case (No. 12), and NCIS (No. 16).
''It's just a result of several consecutive years of good development,'' boasts CBS exec VP Kelly Kahl. ''Our schedule performs with an amazing amount of consistency from week to week.'' Yes, but how many corpses can one schedule handle before consistency becomes monotony? NBC, after all, proved in the '90s that there's such a thing as too much comedy. ''Certainly those shows work for us,'' says Kahl. ''At the same time, we aren't 100 percent reliant on crime.''
While noncrime drama attempts like dr. vegas (No. 52) and Clubhouse (No. 60) didn't stick, sophomore hit Two and a Half Men (No. 9) continues to grow, picking up another 1.2 million viewers since last season. As a result, it'll likely have an easy time stepping in for the departing Everybody Loves Raymond (No. 8). Survivor: Vanuatu (No. 5) is down about 2 million viewers, but that's in comparison to the much-hyped All-Stars season. And The Amazing Race (No. 26) has (at last!) found an audience as a regular-season player. Plus, Kahl swears CBS has plenty of shows in development that have nothing to do with dead people: ''I don't feel as though the bubble's going to burst someday and we're going to all of a sudden vanish off the planet.'' But if they do, those Without a Trace guys are on top of it.
Other Winners 60 Minutes, up 1.1 million viewers; The King of Queens, up 100,000
Other Losers Joan of Arcadia, down 1.7 million; JAG, down 1.1 million