NFL, ‘Quinn’ save CBS

It was CBS’ “Dr. Quinn” vs. ABC’s “Amy Fisher,” and CBS’ pro-football playoffs vs. ABC’s college-football national-championship game last week. When the dust settled, the good doctor and pro football proved just strong enough to bring CBS home first in the prime time Nielsens for the Dec. 28-Jan. 3 week.

Even with strong numbers from its own Amy Fisher telefilm, NBC got killed, finishing the week the deepest in last place (the furthest behind the second-place web) that any network has been in nearly four years, since the week of Feb. 20-26, 1989.

For CBS last week, the first two “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” episodes boosted the net to its highest non-Olympics Friday rating since the “Dallas” finale May 3, 1991, and the highest non-sports Saturday rating in nearly five years, since Jan. 23, 1988 (with “High Mountain Rangers” and “Country Music Celebration”).

Then Sunday’s big lead-in from the Philadelphia-New Orleans playoff game propelled CBS’ “60 Minutes” to its best rating in almost nine years and “Murder, She Wrote” to its highest numbers in nearly three years.

Still, that was barely enough to let CBS squeak past ABC for the week. ABC’s Friday telecast of the Alabama-Miami Sugar Bowl, which settled college football’s national championship, scored the best ABC Friday nightlong rating since the “Liberty Weekend” spec July 4, 1986.

And then on Sunday, ABC’s “The Amy Fisher Story” delivered that net’s highest vidpic rating since the two-hour premiere of “Twin Peaks” earned a 21.7/33 on April 8, 1990. ABC’s big guns did make a lot more noise among the audience most desirable to advertisers. The week’s adults 18-49 averages were: ABC, an 8.9 rating, 22 share; CBS, 6.9/17; NBC, 6.3/17; Fox Broadcasting Co., 5.1/12. ABC has now won that race for 11 of the season’s 15 weeks.

NBC ran its own “Amy Fisher” telefilm Monday and almost equaled the ABC Sunday numbers. That pic, “Amy Fisher: My Story,” scored as NBC’s highest-rated single-episode Monday film since Oct. 15, 1990, with “Kaleidoscope” (20.3/32).

But it was still a horrid week for NBC. Saddled with the weaker Florida State-Nebraska Orange Bowl against ABC’s big Sugar Bowl New Year’s night, NBC fell to the worst Friday nightlong rating for any of the three networks in at least 11 years and probably in TV history. Even Fox has only once in the last 16 months had a lower Friday rating, and that was during the Summer rerun season, up against the Olympics.

‘Spinal’ tapped

Also, a “Spinal Tap Reunion” rock-comedy spec broke NBC’s back on Thursday, New Year’s Eve, dragging the Peacock to its worst rating that hour in at least 11 years and probably ever. That dumped NBC to the worse Thursday rating for any network or Fox since July 4, 1991.

So despite the “Fisher” boost, NBC for a fifth week in a row tied the all-time lowest regular-season share for any of the three webs, a 17. But even with its difficulties, NBC did manage its best weeklong rating in three weeks.

With football, “Fisher” and frontier medicine bringing in big audiences last week, the three networks, combined, actually topped their total rating for the corresponding week a year earlier. It’s the first time in 17 weeks that the networks have managed that feat.

CBS has taken the first step toward another win in the current week by sweeping the Monday half-hours. That meant the first slot win ever (after 15 tries) for “Love and War” (16.4/24). The CBS lineup averaged a 16.6/25, CBS’ highest Monday rating since Oct. 5.

‘Running’ off

ABC got a taste of Monday life without football when repeat theatrical “The Running Man” chased away viewers and left ABC with its worst Monday score (11.0/ 16) since Aug. 31.

The Dec. 28-Jan. 3 week went right down to the wire, but a big CBS Sunday win gave that network the week.

CBS’ Philadelphia-New Orleans nine-minute prime time football overrun scored a 26.1 rating, 44 share, which was the highest-rated prime time telecast of any sort since the Dan Quayle episode of “Murphy Brown” on Sept. 21.

But the “60 Minutes” episode that followed that football overrun did even better, reporting the CBS news magazine’s best numbers since its post-Super Bowl edition Jan. 22, 1984. “Murder, She Wrote” followed with its best rating since Jan. 7, 1990.

That gave CBS enough of an edge to win the night despite the sensational “Amy Fisher” rating at ABC, as the alphabet web took the night by 5 shares in the key adults 18-49 demographic.

Saturday fell easily to CBS as “Dr. Quinn” reported the best regular-series rating and share in that hour for any web since the final first-run “Golden Girls” last May 3. The last time a new series debuted in that hour with higher numbers was March 13, 1982, with ABC’s “T.J. Hooker.”

The telecast attracted more women 18-49 than the ABC and NBC competition combined, earning the best rating in that demographic for that hour on any network in three seasons. But “Quinn” still stilled skewed somewhat older, settling for a 22 share among adults 18-49.

Even with that powerful lead-in, the returning “Raven” couldn’t pull out a 9- 10 p.m. win. Still, it was the highest-flying “Raven” since that series premiered last June.

“The Hat Squad” rejoined the CBS team in the Saturday 10 p.m. hour but couldn’t escape third even though NBC gave “Sisters” the week off.

Against “Dr. Quinn,” NBC’s sickly “Here and Now” and “The Powers That Be”–which will have their last airings Jan. 30–took a turn for the worse. “Here” fell again to NBC’s worst share that half-hour in at least 11 years and “Powers” equalled the worst in its half-hour since Jan. 16, 1982.

Sugar Bowl sweet

Friday fell to ABC’s Sugar Bowl, the highest-rated prime time college gridcast since Jan. 1, 1991’s, Colorado-Notre Dame Orange Bowl (18.3/30).

Even against the Sugar Bowl, CBS managed to win three of the night’s half-hours with “Dr. Quinn.” That two-hour “preview” delivered the healthiest rating for a dramatic-series premiere since the April ’90 launch of “Twin Peaks.”

The “Quinn” lead-in rating brought quick relief to “Picket Fences,” which, even in rerun, hammered down the skein’s highest rating since its Sept. 18 premiere.

New Year’s Eve fell to the CBS lineup, as “Cheers” lost to CBS regular-series competition for only the second time since Feb. 28, 1985.

Wednesday went to ABC for a second week in a row. “Civil Wars exploited low-rated spec competition to post its first timeslot win ever, while CBS finished a close third for the night despite its lowest Wednesday 9-11 p.m. share since Sept. 9 from “The Kennedy Center Honors.” Still, the annual spec was up 9% from its ’91 rating and up 27% from its ’90 numbers.

Tuesday saw CBS and NBC tie for first, leaving usual winner ABC licking its wounds in third. It was the first time ABC dropped to third on a Tuesday since July 28, during the Summer Olympics.

Doubting ‘Thomas’

The major problem for ABC is the soon-to-be-switched “Going to Extremes” (the only ABC Tuesday show to lose its slot last week), but “The Jackie Thomas Show” is also now drifting into discouraging territory.

Last week “Jackie” held on to just 81% of its “Roseanne” lead-in, despite being the only firstrun program on the night’s schedule besides “Dateline NBC.”

It was ABC’s biggest dropoff in the post-“Roseanne” slot since “Arresting Behavior” ran there Aug. 18.

CBS tied for first on the night without winning a single half-hour.

NBC’s tie for the lead was its first peek out of the Tuesday cellar since Sept. 8.

The Peacock did it with “Three Men and a Baby” (best rating in its slot for NBC since Election Night) and “Dateline” (second-highest series rating), which featured an Amy Fisher interview.

Fisher also keyed NBC’s Monday victory with the “My Story” vidpic (Daily Variety, Dec. 30), as “Fresh Prince” and “Blossom” contributed slot wins as well.

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