Movies, Telepix Falter In Sweeps

Perhaps some crazed gamblers have fixed the February sweeps. That would be one explanation why movies – telepix and theatricals – performed so badly in the first week of the period. And, to one degree or another, each of the networks stumbled.

Traditionally, the networks have relied on big-name movie stars and quality projects like “Hallmark Hall of Fame” for a ratings burst during the sweeps. But in one week, everyone from August Wilson to Robert Redford to Barbra Streisand (twice) failed to spark interest.

Not surprisingly, CBS, the network currently in the worst shape, took the worst of it. On Feb. 8, the Eye web subbed “Sibling Rivalry” in place of its lackluster Wednesday sitcoms, and earned an equally lackluster 8.4/13, finishing fourth for the 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. hour.

The previous night, CBS’ Tuesday Movie “In the Shadow of Evil” was covered in darkness – it mustered only a 9.4/15,17% below its season average of 11.3/18 (which is already in decline from last season).

The biggest disappointment came Feb. 5, since the network has dominated the first Sunday of the February sweeps for the past decade, usually with the classy programming that helped earn CBS its Tiffany Network moniker. August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” certainly met the standards quality-wise, but it was a minor disaster ratings-wise. The 14.0/21 was only three-tenths of a point below the Sunday Movie average for the season, but it was CBS’ worst first Sunday in February ratings in more than a decade.

On Feb. 6, NBC received lavish critical acclaim from the critics for “Serving in Silence” but only a 13.4/21 from the Nielsen families, half a rating point below its Monday Movie average.

But before programmers start jumping to the conclusion that movies about blacks and lesbians don’t score as well as other topics, they should take note of the ratings earned on screen by Streisand (who, as a producer, was largely responsible for bringing “Silence” to fruition) and Robert Redford.

Streisand landed NBC in third-place Feb. 5 for her star turn in “The Prince of Tides,” 11.6/18. And ABC’s “Sneakers” was trounced by “Silence,” scoring only a 11.3/17, four-tenths of a ratings point below the web’s movie average there.

Only “Under Siege” (15.4/24) broke the pattern and provided ABC with the traditional sweeps ratings jump. The movie scored 2.5 points, or nearly 20%, above ABC’s Sunday Movie season average.

Fox, which scored big at the movies the week before sweeps when the “O.J. Simpson Story” garnered an 11.2/17, fell back to earth Feb. 7 – “Unlawful Entry” managed only a 5.8/9, 12% below the Fox Tuesday Movie average.

Fox, however, did share with NBC the best success from a regular series during the first week. “X-Files” must have had Fox execs in outer space with its 11.3/19 showing Feb. 3, 24% above its average. For the second week in a row it set a new record for the show and for Fox in that 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. slot, and this time it tied ABC for first in the 9:30 time period.

NBC started the sweeps in fine fashion when “ER” snagged a stellar 23.3/37, and continued its run Feb. 6 and 7 with strong sitcom performances. On Monday, “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” which has been struggling all season, earned a 13.2/19, a whopping 28% above its 10.3/16 average. “Blossom” (11.3/16) was also a full rating point above normal.

The following night, “Frasier” – boosted by a guest lead-in by “Mad About You” – scored a 15.3/22, eight-tenths of a point above usual. That seemed to come at “Home Improvement’s” expense; the ABC sitcom fell half a point to 19.6/28.

On Feb. 8, even “Dateline NBC” got in on the act, nabbing an 11.5/18, nearly one point above its average. At the same time, ABC’s “Roseanne” fell more than two rating points to 14.4/22 and “Ellen” slipped 1.3 points to 13.7/21.

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