Plenty Of ‘Hope’ For Replacements

Spring is here, so networks are inserting replacement players into their lineups. Unlike the replacements offered by Major League Baseball, though, many of these programs were successful.

The biggest hit in its first at-bat was struck by NBC’s “Hope & Gloria,” which essentially took over for “Madman of the People,” the weak link on Thursday night. “Hope” moved in at 8:30, bumping “Friends” to “Madman’s” 9:30 slot.

The rookie couldn’t have done much better in its March 9 debut, scoring a 16.3 rating and 25 share, half a rating point higher than its “Mad About You” lead-in. That was a full rating point higher than what “Friends” had averaged in the time slot. But shed no tears for “Friends” – it skyrocketed to a superb 20.0/31 in its new slot, holding virtually all of its lead-in from “Seinfeld,” 20.7/31.

Meanwhile, “ER” continued to make a 40 share seem like routine procedure at 10 p.m., underscoring both the saturation of news magazines and the genre’s ultimate ratings limitation. “ER” had more rating points, 24.2, than the combination of 10 p.m. newsmags ABC’s “Day One” and CBS’ “48 Hours,” and CBS’ 9 p.m. lead-in “Eye to Eye With Connie Chung.”

Fox also scored big with one of its new series: “VR. 5” finished second to ABC in the 8 p.m. timeslot during its March 10 premiere. The show’s 7.6/13 not only outperformed its predecessor, “MANTIS” (5.1/9), by 49%, it also boosted a repeat of “X- Files,” to 10.7/18, a solid 15% above its season average.

Fox’s other newcomer, “Medicine Ball,” was much slower out of the gate, debuting with a sluggish 6.6/10 on Monday, March 13, at 9 p.m., losing a full third of its “Melrose Place” lead-in.

CBS’ “The Office” produced respectable but unspectacular numbers in its Saturday, March 11 opener. An 8.7/15 for this 9 p.m. sitcom sounds inarguably weak, but on a low HUT level night it held an acceptable 84% of its “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” lead-in and won the time period.

By comparison, the web’s “Under One Roof earned a 9.2/15 in its premiere on March 14, but fared worse against the competition, finishing a distant third in the 8-9 p.m. block and scoring only 85% of what the aging “Rescue 911” scored there.

Of course, one episode does not a season make, as exemplified by “The George Wendt Show” in its second effort on March 15. The show had a disappointing debut (Variety, March 13-19) but at least won its time period. The follow-up lost 19% from the first show and slipped from first to fourth. Then again, even Julius Caesar looked bad on the Ides of March.

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