The CBS Eye is starting to look over its shoulder: ABC has won three straight primetime Nielsen weeks, grabbed the lead in the November sweeps and pulled within just 0.2 rating points of CBS’ season-to-date lead.ABC took the Nov. 8-14 period with a mid-week blitz that included the highest-rated “Barbara Walters” spec in 3 1/2 years; the net’s best Wednesday average since Feb. 10 (when Oprah Winfrey interviewed Michael Jackson), courtesy of “Dances With Wolves” and “Home Improvement” (which hit ABC’s best Wednesday 8 -8:30 rating in five years); and impressive season highs on Thursday and Friday for “Matlock,””Missing Persons” and “Family Matters.” NBC also enjoyed a banner week, winning in the key adults 18-49 demographic and scoring its highest households average since the week of the “Cheers” finale May 17-23. Excluding weeks of major specials, it was NBC’s best households average since May 4-10, 1992. The Peacock web’s heroes included Monday’s “A Matter of Justice” wrapup, Thursday’s regular lineup and Sunday’s “Backdraft,” which survived blazing competition to conquer the night in 18-49 results. Meanwhile, CBS won none of the 30 primetime half-hours from Monday through Friday, a stretch that included the lowest rating ever for “The Wizard of Oz.” CBS was running a decided third for the week until Sunday’s “60 Minutes … 25 Years” earned that news mag’s highest rating since last Jan. 17 and the top rating for any program this season. Then the seven-hour miniseries “Return to Lonesome Dove” launched with solid, albeit unspectacular numbers. “Return’s” Sunday opener lassoed an 18.1 rating, 28 share — CBS’ best Sunday-film figures since last April 25 (“Call of the Wild,” 18.2/29) — but fell well short of its forebearer, which premiered with a 28.5/42 on Feb. 5, 1989. Even in rerun, that opening-episode corralled a 15.1/24 on Jan. 20, 1991. “Return” nevertheless started strong enough to suggest CBS can dominate the coming week if the audience is hungry for five more hours of “Dove,” as well as four hours of JFK retrospectives. Those specs will provide temporary relief for the ailing heart of the CBS lineup — the middle hours of the middle nights of the week, which are currently experiencing serious ailments and dragging CBS’ overall averages down. In the three weeks since the end of the World Series, ABC has chopped CBS’ season-long Nielsens lead down from 0.9 rating points to 0.2. After 12 nights of the 28-night Nielsen sweeps (through Monday of this week), ABC leads with a 13.1/21; followed closely by CBS’ 12.8/20 and NBC’s 12.4/20. Fox Broadcasting Co. has a 5.1. Among adults 18-49, the ratings averages for the sweep are: NBC, 7.7; ABC, 7. 6; CBS, 6.8; Fox, 5.1. Last week’s adults 18-49 averages were: NBC, 7.8/20; ABC, 7.7/19; CBS, 6.9/17 ; Fox, 5.4/13. Discounting weeks of NBA playoffs or the “Cheers” finale, it was NBC’s best average in this demo since the week of Feb. 15. Monday CBS is off on the right foot this week with a Monday win, breaking a four-week winless streak on the night. “Murphy Brown” (17.5/26) led the way, winning its slot for the first time in four weeks with the show’s best rating since Oct. 4. CBS’ “Dave’s World” (15.0/22) also impressed, building by 10% on its lead-in rating from “Evening Shade” (13.6/21). The first of four JFK-themed programs for the week, NBC’s “Fatal Deception: Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald” (11.2/18) fell to the net’s worst Monday-movie numbers this season. The three webs remain tightly bunched through nine Mondays in households this season, each averaging a 23 share. Sunday “60 Minutes” and “Return to Lonesome Dove” rounded up the highest nightlong ratings average for any net this season and CBS’ best Sunday score since Feb. 14 . “Backdraft,” however, was strong enough to blow CBS away in the adults 18-49 demo (the fourth Sunday in six weeks that NBC has led in that demo). Even in households, “Backdraft” nearly caught “Return to Lonesome Dove” by the 10:30 p.m. half-hour and climbed to NBC’s top Sunday-film rating since May 23 (“Ambush in Waco,” 18.8/30). ABC’s “Lois & Clark” got bullied by sweeps competition, plummeting to last in the slot with its weakest numbers yet. Saturday CBS took the night in households’ with the healthiest “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” rating since premiere week, but the net was hindered by lowest-yet numbers from both “Harts of the West” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.” That allowed Fox and NBC to move ahead in adults 18-49. ABC’s “George” held its mediocre premiering numbers of the previous week, but “Where I Live” increased its retention of that lead-in from 89% to 98%. Then from 9-10 p.m. a special “Matlock” sustained a 51% improvement over last week’s “Paula Poundstone” numbers, helping boost “The Commish” into the 10-11 p.m. lead for the first time since Aug. 28. NBC’s “Sisters” has been Saturday’s top program among women 18-34 and 18-49 for three weeks in a row. Friday “Family Matters” equaled its highest rating since Nov. 8, 1991, and its highest Friday 8-8:30 p.m. share ever, leading ABC to another easy victory. Fox was second in adults 18-49 and NBC second in households, as “Jack Reed: Badge of Honor” joined the “Mystery Movie” rotation with the Peacock’s highest-rated non-”Perry Mason” non-”Hart to Hart” Friday film since March 26. At 8 p.m., “Against the Grain” got crunched to its lowest rating yet. Thursday While still fourth among adults 18-49, ABC was able to pull within a whisker of a Thursday households win by trading “Matlock” and “Missing Persons” slots. Exploiting the kid skew of CBS’ “Wizard of Oz,” those two ABC series each tracked down their best ratings of the season. It was the lowest-rated showing ever for “Oz.” The previous low came Nov. 27, 1991 (12.3/21). Last Feb. 26, the classic pic earned a 13.2/22. Fox was hit with season-low firstrun shares for “The Simpsons,””Sinbad” and “In Living Color.” Wednesday “Home Improvement” and the conclusion of “Dances With Wolves” dominated. “Home” sent the flickering “Hearts Afire” to CBS’ lowest original-programming share in the Wednesday 8-8:30 slot since March 7, 1990 (“Grand Slam,” 5.4/9). NBC took second in households for the night as its “Mystery of the Sphinx” spec uncovered the Peacock’s best Wednesday 9-10 p.m. rating since the NBA finals June 16. Fox enjoyed its best Wednesday household rating of the season and best 18-49 rating since last May 19. Tuesday ABC grabbed its highest Tuesday ratings average since Nov. 24, 1992, thanks to the Barbara Walters spec, which earned the best ABC rating fpr that hour in almost three years — since “It” scared up a 21.0/36 back on Nov. 20, 1990 (Daily Variety, Nov. 11). This is the top “Walters”-spec rating since March 26, 1990, an Oscar-Night telecast. As ABC cleaned up, season lows were logged by Fox’s “Bakersfield, P.D.” and “America’s Most Wanted,” which tracked down its lowest-rated regular-slot finish in the show’s 5 1/2-year history. Facing down Walters, “Die Hard 2″ fell to CBS’ lowest Tuesday-movie share since Sept. 7. Monday NBC swept the night as the conclusion to “A Matter of Justice” delivered the net’s highest non-sports Monday rating sinceApril 29, 1991 (Daily Variety, Nov. 10). Each rating point represents an estimated 942,000 households, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. The share is the same sort of percentage, except that it’s measured against only the households in which TV is being watched during the timeslot involved.
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