Between 8 and 8:30 p.m., Survivor: The Australian Outback scored a 17.1 rating and a 25 audience share, while Friends had a 16.6 rating and 24 audience share, according to Nielsen's overnight measurement.
During the second half hour, Survivor had a rating of 19.8 and a 28 share. The last 10 minutes of Friends increased to a 17.4 rating and 24 share, and a 20-minute Saturday Night Live special had a 13.7 rating and 19 share.
The overnight ratings measure viewership in 49 major media markets representing two-thirds of the nation's 102.2 million television households. One rating point equals 675,000 homes, while the share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.
More precise ratings numbers were due later Friday.
Based on the overnight ratings, it appears Friends had something close to its typical audience for a first-run show. Survivor drew much of its viewers from people who usually don't watch TV at that time or watch something other than Friends, said David Poltrack, CBS' top research executive.
"It was a very good night for network television," Poltrack said.
The showdown is serious business for network television. By airing Survivor on Thursdays, CBS was hoping to cut into NBC's viewership on a night it has dominated for nearly two decades.
NBC responded aggressively, adding 10 minutes to "supersize" Friends each week this month and airing the special 20-minute Saturday Night Live prime-time edition.
Still, NBC at least had fun with it. Saturday Night Live used opening credits that were a dead knockoff of the Survivor opening, saying it was "13 cast members, 20 minutes, one frightened network."
And actor Chris Parnell, impersonating Tom Brokaw, narrated a "news break" telling NBC viewers that the Kucha tribe had won the wee's immunity challenge on Survivor only seconds after it was broadcast on CBS.
NBC declared victory, despite its narrow loss.
"They took their shot with the biggest cultural phenomenon of the year, and I think must-see TV prevailed," said Alan Wurtzel, NBC's chief researcher.
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