Warmth, Holidays Sap Ratings Race

It’s Christmastime, and everyone’s home with the family-but no one is watching TV.

While repeats traditionally drag down ratings at this time of year, two other factors helped push them down even further this time around: exceedingly warm weather in most of the nation throughout a large part of the week before Christmas, and then Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, which decimated a difficult night, and Christmas Day falling on a Sunday, a high HUT-level night that usually keeps the averages up.

On Christmas Day, only those wily old veterans, ABC’s “Columbo: A Bird in the Hand” and CBS’ “60 Minutes,” managed to break double digits. “Columbo’s” 11.2 rating and 22 share was strong enough to beat second-place CBS by 27%-in the 9:30 to 10 p.m. block, the detective telepic topped NBC and Fox combined.

NBC’s New York Knick-Chicago Bulls primetime game managed only a 4.1/10, a dismal score more attributable to the absence of Michael Jordan and the lack of glamour in that once-sizzling rivalry than to the presence of Santa Claus.

However, Sunday was a far, far better place for the networks than Saturday. On the night before Christmas, all through the houses, not a TV was stirring. CBS, with a repeat of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and “Holidays: Ed Sullivan Christmas Show” managed only a 7.8/19-and it handily won the night. NBC’s “Countdown to Christmas” and ABC’s rerun of “Pete’s Dragon” were the two most unappealing programs of the evening, each mustering only a 3.9/10.

Special specials

Of course, the schedule was laden with Christmas specials well before the big day arrived, and while most failed to generate wild excitement, there were few lumps of coal. On Dec. 23, NBC got a solid performance from “All I Want for Christmas” (10.3/19), which won three of its four time periods. Meanwhile CBS skedded three straight Yule specials from 8-11, including a Disney special and a Ringling Brothers special, and got a third-place finish for its efforts-the web averaged 8.5/16 for the night.

But on Dec. 22, the Eye web had better luck, this time with an Opryland Christmas special and another Disney special mustering enough for a second-place finish, averaging 10.2/17 between them.

The network’s strongest holiday performance came from “Kathie Lee’s Christmas,” which snared a 10.7/17 on Dec. 21 at 9 p.m. That second-place finish, ahead of “Dateline NBC” (10.3/16), was a pleasant surprise on a night CBS normally struggles-the special scored 39% above its lead-in.

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