Here's the way to get people to watch an awards show: cut back on the awards. Sunday's Grammy ceremony, which was light on acceptance speeches (only 11 of the 104 awards were handed out on the air) and heavy on live music (some 18 performances, up from the usual 10), drew 31 percent more viewers than last year's show. The three-and-a-half-hour telecast averaged 24.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen, though CBS says at least 55 million watched at least some of the program. In any case, it drew enough to help CBS claim a victory in the four-week February sweeps period.
Sweeps month, during which ratings are used to set advertising price rates, doesn't end until Wednesday, but CBS projected a win with an average of 13.8 million viewers, compared with 12.5 million for NBC, 12.1 million for Fox, and 10.5 million for ABC. In a conference call to reporters, CBS president Leslie Moonves claimed that his network won February largely on the basis of its usual schedule, without Michael Jackson specials (as on ABC, NBC, and Fox), faux millionaires, or real marriage proposals. As he put it, ''It was the craziest sweeps in the history of show business, the month of Michael Jackson, reality finales, reality premieres and shows that just plain defied reality.'' (Of course, CBS did have its own gimmicky reality premiere this month, launching the battle-of-the-sexes season of ''Survivor.'') Nonetheless, such shows do attract the crucial 18-to-49 demographic, which is where Fox claimed a February victory. In the race for the group advertisers target the most, CBS came in third.