US television networks hope to boost advertising dollars with shows that attract upscale audiences.

The current TV season has seen one of the closest-ever ratings races between the four main networks, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. As a consequence each is struggling to stand out from the crowd as they tempt media buyers for next season.

Monied households - those earning upward of $75,000 (€59k; £40k) yearly - traditionally watch less TV than their poorer neighbours. And because they are harder to reach and more likely to own ad-skipping devices such as TiVo, the networks can charge advertisers a premium.

Nielsen Media Research has started providing data on those earning more than $125k as luxury marketing booms. The problem lies in knowing which programs will lure Mr & Mrs Moneybags.

Says NBC's president of research and media development, Alan Wurtzel: "In general these viewers respond to high production values, sophisticated dialogue and story lines and a unique point of view." The network cites as successful examples The West Wing and The Apprentice.

ABC's president of entertainment Steve McPherson claims it is possible to adjust existing shows to make them more appealing to wealthy viewers. He says changing costumes, locations and introducing "pedigree" characters can all work.

Media buyers are yet to be completely convinced. Says Laura Caraccioli-Davis, svp at Starcom in Chicago: "The networks in general have overused the word 'quality' to describe their audiences to such a degree that it doesn't mean much anymore."

She adds: "There is money going after this area, but overall television is not a very upscale marketplace. The pool of TV advertisers seeking narrow, wealthy audiences is comparatively small."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff