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Weary webs let summer slip by

It’s going to be a long, low-rated summer.

Showing that their doldrums know no bounds, the networks followed up a week of staggering lows by sinking even further into a ratings funk. And, with the least aggressive schedule of this decade in terms of summer series, things can only get worse.

Pack lacks smack

Despite the presence of Michael Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal, the networks posted miserable numbers for the week of June 12-18: The 24.7 rating and 48 share for the Big Three was the lowest score ever for a week that did not include the Fourth of July or a political convention. And Fox earned only a 4.7/9 for the week – with not a single half-hour above a 7.0, and three below 3.0.

ABC’s victory for the week with a 9.2/18 rating was based not on a balanced lineup, but on Jackson’s “Primetime Live” appearance and the weakness of the competition. CBS had only 90 minutes in double digit ratings in what was its lowestrated week in history. The nadir was a Friday night lineup of “Horatio Alger Awards,” “Due South” and “Picket Fences” which averaged only a 4.7/10. At NBC, the early ending to the NBA Finals ruined what should have been a triumphant week – the web averaged below a 6.0 rating for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

As bad a week as it was, the networks seem ready to set new records for futility. Ratings slipped even lower for the most part as the new rating week began, with Fox leading the way down.

Fox scored a 3.0/6 on June 19, a 5.5/10 the next night and a 3.2/6 on June 21, compared to an already meager 4.6/8,5.3/10 and 3.8/7 the previous Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

And the prospects for improvement don’t look great, since the weakest link is that its soap dramas repeat extremely poorly: On June 21, “Beverly Hills, 90210” earned a 3.5/7, while “Party of Five” managed only a 2.9/5.

No loss leader

ABC, which prevented the combined network totals from falling completely off the charts the June 12-18 week, couldn’t provide that kind of boost last week. It had a better Monday on June 19 than the previous week, climbing from an 8.3/14 to a 9.0/16, led by its “An Innocent Man” telepic, but its Tuesday rating was identical to the previous Tuesday, and Wednesday’s “Primetime Live” fell dramatically without Jackson, giving the web a 10.9/20 for the night compared to a 15.7/28 from the previous week.

NBC is also suffering, with a 9.2/17,8.4/15 and 7.2/14 for the first three nights of the week compared to a 9.6/17,9.1/17 and 10.7/19 from the previous week (the 10.7 figure was the final basketball game of the year).

Only CBS was headed in the right direction, but that’s only because it had scraped rock bottom the previous week with 9.1/16,7.9/14 and 6.6/11 for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The June 19-21 numbers of 9.1/17,8.1/15 and 6.8/13 represent the most modest of improvements.

The biggest question facing the networks in the long run will be whether these awful numbers lead to continued erosion when the new season begins.

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