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THE GRAMMY AWARDS

Grammys Claim the Night During Hot Sweeps Week

February 23, 2001|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What could have easily been dubbed the Eminem Grammy Awards proved a major ratings draw for CBS, which weathered intense Wednesday-night sweeps competition to finish about 4% below last year's ceremony, making it the second-most-watched Grammy telecast since 1993.

CBS averaged 26.7 million viewers at any given moment during the three-hour broadcast, according to Nielsen Media Research, down roughly 1.1 million from a year ago. The network estimates 55 million people watched at least some portion of the event.

Average viewership dipped slightly during the 9 p.m. hour opposite NBC's "The West Wing" (16.4 million viewers) and Fox's "Temptation Island" (12.9 million). While the White House drama--which appeals to a slightly older audience--and its NBC companion "Law & Order" experienced no serious ill effects from facing off against the Grammys, Fox's sun-drenched "Island" caters to the same young audience and dove more than 4 million viewers from its ratings average over five previous episodes.

Viewing of the Grammys rebounded a bit after 10 p.m., with about 26 million people watching during the final half-hour when Eminem finally performed his duet with Elton John.

Beyond the promotional value of stringing viewers along through the evening for that much-ballyhooed event, CBS chose to save Eminem until the show's end--after the presumed bedtime for most younger children--because of concerns about risque content.

The rapper did utter several expletives during his act, and one term slipped past censors arming the seven-second delay switch and was heard in the Eastern time zone. The word--which CBS allowed in a 1999 episode of "Chicago Hope," when a character used the phrase "S--- happens"--was bleeped out from the delayed West Coast broadcast.

The network and Grammy organizers sidestepped another potentially embarrassing moment when Eminem made a well-known coarse gesture with his hands to the Staples Center crowd during the standing ovation he received; however, the camera was tight on the rapper and John, so the symbol was off-screen, not visible to the TV audience.

CBS ran public-service announcements regarding domestic violence (including one spot that immediately followed Eminem's performance) and hate speech in an effort to mollify critics of the rapper's more controversial lyrics pertaining to women and homosexuals. Gay and lesbian activists protested his appearance outside Staples Center.

In an interview with MTV that will be televised today, Eminem said he hadn't known Elton John was gay and "didn't really care; but you know, being that he was gay and he had my back, I think it made a statement in itself saying that he understood where I was coming from. . . . If I didn't make a statement with Elton John tonight, I don't know what else to do."

Having dismissed the idea of winning a Grammy in one of his songs before claiming a trio on Wednesday, Eminem added that his primary goal was to be respected, "So I guess if trophies mean respect or whatever, it's cool."

Despite the downturn in overall viewing from last year's Grammys, when "West Wing" possessed a less devoted following and Fox offered less formidable competition, CBS noted that the rating actually rose somewhat among adults age 18 to 34--an increase no doubt at least partly attributable to the Eminem controversy.

The Grammys are especially valuable to CBS because the music awards bring in advertiser-friendly younger demographics, which the network--possessing the oldest median viewing age among the major broadcasters--has difficulty reaching on a regular basis. The awards represent a showcase to promote CBS series to those viewers and a demographic bull's-eye with the audience for its Thursday hit "Survivor: The Australian Outback."

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Times staff writer Geoff Boucher contributed to this story.

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What the Stars Wore

* The Grammys were about freedom of expression, including the right to bare thighs and bellybuttons. E2

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