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Alphabet takes back ratings title

Billy Graham helped put a damper on CBS’ so-called “halo effect” from the Winter Olympics as ABC survived a furious weekend assault by the Eye network to take Nielsen gold for the March 7-13 week.

ABC relied on blockbuster performances from its anchor sitcoms, “Home Improvement” and “Roseanne,” as well as the stellar premieres of “Thunder Alley” and “Turning Point” as part of the network’s best Wednesday results with regular series in more than eight years.

The week does merit a small asterisk, since the latest Graham crusade special again played havoc with clearances, particularly at CBS. Overall, 19 of 74 programs scheduled last week by the Big Three networks were preempted down to 95 % or less ofthe U.S., putting them at or below Fox Broadcasting Co.’s distribution reach.

Still, the ABC household win underscores the relative parity of its regular schedule with frontrunner CBS. With five weeks left in the official 30-week, September-to-April TV season, ABC has won 10 weeks, vs. eight for the entire ’92 -93 term (including one tie with CBS). CBS has been first 14 weeks, though three of those were turned over almost entirely to major sports franchises — the World Series and Winter Olympics.

The good news for ABC and NBC — and an encouraging sign for network TV in general — is that they’ve weathered the Olympics and remain on the same pace as a year ago. In fact, the three webs are showing an aggregate year-to-year gain, having done so only once during the last seven seasons — in 1991-92, another Winter Olympics year.

Fox hurt its cause by offering a rare in-season repeat week of “Beverly Hills , 90210” and “Melrose Place,” turning over its younger audience to ABC. The Alphabet web has been on top 16 weeks this season among adults 18-49. Averages last week by that standard were ABC, an 8.0 rating, 21 share; NBC, 5.9/16; CBS, 5.8/16; Fox, 4.6/12. Though the other three webs stress that sales category, CBS emphasizes the 25-54 demo bracket.

Monday

ABC is off to a solid start this week as well, behind the highest rating for “Day One” (12.2/19) since it moved to Monday last June and a better-than-average movie rating out of its “Spenser: For Hire” telepic (12.8/21), albeit with an older audience skew. The Forrest Sawyer-hosted newsmagazine surpassed its Monday results during its short-lived Sunday run on March 14, 1993.

CBS still won the night handily but — facing an all-sitcom lineup on NBC — with the lowest overall rating for its series regulars since a repeat-laden night in December.

A new NBC sitcom vehicle for 11-year-old Gaby Hoffmann, “Someone Like Me,” bowed with a 12.5/19. That represented a 5% drop off its lead-in from “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” mirroring “Blossom’s” average fall-off in that time period.

Sunday

CBS scored a big household win thanks to its 7-9 p.m. regulars and the Anthony Quinn-Katharine Hepburn pairing “This Can’t Be Love.” ABC, however, easily led among adults 18-49, led by the Tom Selleck feature “An Innocent Man.”

Fox’s “Martin” also achieved its best rating among adults 18-49 in eight weeks, as the show and companion “Living Single” won their time period by that standard.

Saturday

Dramas receiving spring tryouts looked a bit wobbly. “The Road Home” may have started around the bend in its second week, falling 29% off its “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” lead-in and 20% from its premiere.

Another new hour, “Winnetka Road,” hit some potholes at 10 p.m., delivering NBC’s worst results with original series programming in that hour since the Peacock web tried two short-lived sitcoms there, “Black Tie Affair” and “The Powers That Be,” last June. Fox won the night among all male demos with its reality block of “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted.”

Friday

All three networks were hurt by preemptions — CBS due largely to the Graham crusade, NBC in part because of college basketball tournament coverage. Lead-off dramas “Viper” and “Diagnosis Murder,” in fact, were cleared in only 81% and 83% of the U.S., respectively.

ABC also suffered some reduced coverage but still won the night fairly easily , sweeping all six half-hours for the first time since Jan. 14, after doing so 12 out of the first 17 weeks this season.

CBS’ “Picket Fences” had its best competitive finish of the season relative to the newsmagazine “20/20,” despite the lowest rating to date for lead-in “Burke’s Law.”

Thursday

ABC’s “The Byrds of Paradise,” another new hour, flew 10% lower than its premiere rating a week earlier, though the show continues to perform better demographically than slot predecessor “Missing Persons.”

The AFI tribute to Jack Nicholson didn’t do much to jack up CBS’ ratings, saluting the web’s lowest rating in that hour since Jan. 6. A special 8 p.m. airing of “Rescue 911” didn’t save that hour, resulting in the network’s lowest share there since May 27, 1993 (a repeat of the movie “Day One”).

Wednesday

A double dose of “Home Improvement” helped lift ABC to its highest Wednesday rating withregular programming since Jan. 22, 1986, when the lineup included “MacGyver,””Dynasty” and “Hotel” (Daily Variety, March 11).

“Turning Point” spun to the highest rating ever for the first episode of a newsmagazine, according to ABC research, eclipsing the debut of “Dateline” (a 12 .9/23 on March 31, 1992).

“Thunder Alley,” which gets the benefit of four servings as the meat in a “Home Improvement” sandwich, premiered with ABC’s highest 8:30 Wednesday rating since a “Head of the Class” episode back in October 1989. That helped drop the second week of CBS’ “Tom” by 29% from its first outing.

“Home Improvement” equaled its highest share ever (when it led into the 90 -minute Michael Jackson-Oprah Winfrey interview in February 1993); “Grace Under Fire” torched the competish by notching best-yet rating and share.

Tuesday

NBC ate up the competition at 10 p.m. thanks to an exclusive “Dateline NBC” interview with Jeffrey Dahmer, providing the Peacock web one of its few ratings highlights for the week.

ABC also fared well with its sitcom block, as “Roseanne” controlled the 9 o’clock hour with its highest rating since January ’93. In addition, a “Phenom” repeat rallied to that show’s best retention this season from “Full House,” in the process winning its timeslot for the first time since Jan. 11.

Those elements combined to drop the People’s Choice Awards to its lowest rating ever, down 7% from last year’s edition.

Monday

CBS swept the night, including the widest margin of victory yet for “Dave’s World” (Daily Variety, March 9). NBC slipped to its worst Monday numbers since July 26 thanks to the movie “Day of Reckoning,” the web’s worst Monday movie performance since July 1990.

Each rating point represents an estimated 942,000 households, or 1% of the TV homes. The share is the same sort of percentage, except it’s measured against only the households in which TV is being watched during that timeslot.

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