ABC wins 5 nights in a row

“Matlock” has made its case for ABC, winning Thursday for the network–ABC’s first without benefit of sports programming in nearly seven years–and helping the web track down its second straight weeklong prime time Nielsens victory.

The rare Thursday win put ABC first for five consecutive nights last week, Monday through Friday, something no web had accomplished without Olympics programming since NBC took six nights in a row the week of Dec. 28, 1987-Jan. 3, 1988.

The Nov. 2-8 triumph is ABC’s third in the seven weeks of the season so far, already putting the alphabet net ahead of its total of two wins during the 30 weeks of the ’91-’92 campaign. ABC’s win also demonstrated how competitive the web can be in the overall ratings race when it combines some strong older-appeal product (“Matlock” and “Columbo”) with its usual younger-adult fare.

ABC and NBC both started the fall strongly focusing their efforts on the more profitable younger-adult audience, allowing older-skewing CBS to pull away in the households race.

Then during the past two weeks NBC put “Perry Mason” on the case Fridays, undercutting CBS’ early-season momentum on that night, and last week ABC put “Matlock” on the trail of CBS’ older audience and tracked down ABC’s best Thursday 8-10 p.m. rating since Feb. 25, 1988, during the Calgary Winter Olympics.

That led to an ABC weeklong win that’s all the more impressive considering that ABC had to rest its strongest lineup, Tuesday’s, for election coverage.

ABC enjoyed the highest election-night ratings, though CBS could boast the biggest improvement from 1988 averages.

ABC now has a solid lead as the networks approach the halfway point of the November sweeps. Through Monday night of the current week, Nielsen averages after 13 nights of the 28-night Arbitron period are: ABC, a 12.8 rating, 21 share; CBS, 12.5/20; NBC, 12.2/20; Fox Broadcasting Co., 8.3/13.

After 12 nights of the four-week Nielsen period, those standings are: ABC, a 12.9/21; CBS, 12.5/20; NBC, 12.2/19; Fox, 8.2/13.

Fox dominated the week among teen viewers, grabbing nine of the week’s top-10 ratings by that measure. Fox also has the top percentage increase so far this November sweeps compared to last year’s.

Last week’s adults 18-49 averages were: ABC, 8.0/19; NBC, 6.9/17; CBS, 6.4/16 ; Fox, 6.3/15.

On Monday of the current week, the three webs finished in a near three-way dead heat. CBS barely took the night from a revitalized ABC lineup that reaped immediate rewards from the benching of “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” for “FBI: The Untold Stories” (9.9/15) and “American Detective” (11.3/17). “Untold” and “Detective” earned ABC’s best rating that hour (excepting debate coverage) since last April 27.

CBS landed third for the night’s last three half-hours, thanks to NBC’s Shelley Long-Dean Stockwell vidpic “Fatal Memories” (15.8/24), NBC’s highest-rated Monday movie since March 2. CBS’ “Hearts Afire” (15.0/22) won its slot, but saw its rating drop for a fifth week in a row.

The Nov. 2-8 week ended with a big CBS households win on Sunday, thanks to the three-hour first part of “Sinatra.” It’s the highest-rated made-for-TV film since ABC’s second half of “Stay the Night” (17.9/28) April 27. Compared to first-episode ratings from original multiparters aired during the ’91-92 year, “Sinatra’s” opening verse topped 12 of 14.

Tuneful duet

The duet of “Sinatra” and “60 Minutes” also produced CBS’ sweetest Sunday rating since last March 1. A special two-hour “Secret Service” failed to protect NBC’s position in the 8 p.m. hour, leaving the vulnerable Peacock with its worst share that hour in nine weeks. Fox is struggling Sunday 7-8 p.m., last week recording its lowest share there since last January’s Super Bowl Sunday.

Saturday remained NBC’s, but its hourlong debut of “The Powers That Be” couldn’t wrest the 8-9 p.m. hour from Fox’s “Cops.” Still, it was NBC’s top rating in that hour this season.

At 9 p.m. Fox’s “Code 3” rescued its second-best rating ever and won the half-hour among adults 18-49. ABC, meanwhile, got its best Saturday household rating since April 25 thanks to a “Columbo” rerun, though there was no significant improvement in ABC’s Saturday delivery of young adults.

Friday was no contest. With CBS and NBC again fighting over older audiences, ABC was left alone to win the night by 8 shares among adults 18-49. Boosting ABC was the first “Dinosaurs” slot win of the season in households.

Again, NBC’s use of a “Perry Mason” vidpic lifted the web easily into second in households, but kept it third among adults 18-49. Still, “Mason” has NBC up 11% in its slot by that measure and has aided a 13% CBS drop among adults 18-49 in the “Mason” slot.

NBC’s “I’ll Fly Away” remained grounded at 8 p.m., where it dove to its lowest share this season. The show was moved in response to affiliate concerns for the duration of the sweeps.

Thursday marked the triumphant return of “Matlock,” this time on ABC, then “PrimeTime Live’s” second-best rating ever (Daily Variety, Nov. 9). That pair gave ABC its first non-sports Thursday victory since “North and South” won Nov. 7, 1985.

NBC got no significant boost by subbing “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” for “A Different World” at 8 p.m., but “World” itself was a solid improvement at 8:30 in place of “Rhythm and Blues.”

With ABC skewing older than usual for the night, Fox’s wobbly “The Heights” rose to its top rating so far, while CBS’ “Street Stories” got paved over for its second-lowest share ever.

Wednesday fell to ABC’s extra “Home Improvement” episode and an Oprah Winfrey spec, which was the first ABC show to win that hour in eight weeks.

Facing off against “Oprah,” NBC’s “Law & Order” equaled its best rating since Feb. 18, dumping CBS’ “48 Hours” into the slot cellar for the first time since May 20.

NBC’s “Mad About You,” up against tougher-than-usual competition from “Home Improvement,” plunged by 22% from the lead-in rating of “Seinfeld,” a big drop for the freshman comedy.

CBS continues to perform well among older viewers that hour with “In the Heat of the Night,” while Fox’s “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Melrose Place” earned the weblet’s highest Wednesday nightlong rating yet.

Tuesday was election night, and ABC’s prime time coverage narrowly beat out CBS, with NBC somewhat further behind. An estimated 100 million viewers watched at least some of the nets’ election-night coverage.

Even with Fox’s dramatically stepped-up competition, election ratings were up impressively compared to results for the more lopsided ’88 election. NBC was up a mere 4% compared to ’88, but ABC shot up by 22% and CBS by a sizzling 36%. On average, the webs improved by 20% and their combined share rose 5 points, to a 56.

Compared to ’84, also a lopsided vote, ABC was up by 12%, CBS by 3% and NBC was even. One has to go back to 1980, the last time an election was comparably dramatic, for a higher-rated election, though in the case of 1980, the results were, in fact, far higher. Compared to those ’80 numbers, the ’92 figures show ABC down by 9% and CBS and NBC down by 27% each.

Monday night, disrupted by 3 1/2 hours of political ads, fell to ABC’s Minnesota-Chicago football game (Daily Variety, Nov. 4). The political shows were excluded from weeklong averages.

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