Billy Graham strong-armed Hercules during the week ended Dec. 3 – which overlapped the last few days of the November sweeps – with a crusade special divinely interrupting the natural flow of the ratings universe in the weekly Nielsen national barter rankings.

The syndicated special was at least the most convenient explanation for MCA TV’s freshman “Xena: Warrior Princess” beating out its MCA sophomore companion “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” in the household ratings for the first time.

Xena’s leap

The sword-wielding princess soared 16% to a record 5.9, trailing only Paramount’s usual weekly front-runner, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (down 3%, to 6.9 and off 26% from a year ago).

Despite the unusual household loss to “Xena” for “Hercules,” which sank 19%, to 5.6, it continued to maintain its No. 2 standing in the key demos during the week.

And “Hercules” still managed to out-muscle All American’s “Baywatch” (off 4%, to 5.3), which has lost some of its bounce this season with a 17% year-to-year decline.

Comic effect

The top-three off-net sitcoms – BVTV’s “Home Improvement,” Columbia TriStar’s “Seinfeld” and Twentieth TV’s “The Simpsons” – all posted double-digit gains, a likely result of sweeps promotions and colder weather in parts of the country.

“Home,” which leaped 15% to a hefty 10 rating, normally tops the demo charts. But this week the strip had to take a back seat to another BVTV entry, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” The film scored with an astronomical 11.2 household rating and led in every key demo bracket except men 25-54, where it slightly trailed the sitcom.

‘Seinfeld’ soars

“Seinfeld” meanwhile, added 15% to reach 7.8, and Homer & Co. – now in its second year with increased national coverage -leaped 16%, to 6.7.

Although most magazines eked out minor gains over the depressed Thanksgiving holiday week, all continued to fade on a year-to-year comparison basis.

As usual, Par’s “Entertainment Tonight” led the magazines in ratings and demos, while King World’s “Inside Edition” was out front for the 12th consecutive week with a 6.3.

However, “ET” and Par’s “Hard Copy” were the only mag shows to gain on their metered market lead-ins. “Copy” led in adults 18-34, tied “Inside” with the 18-49 set and trailed “Inside” slightly with the 25-54 crowd.

In the reality genre, Twentieth’s “Cops” was the highest-rated reality strip in syndication, gaining 8% to a season high 4.2.

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