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IT’S ALPHABET COUP

ABC outrates rival webs' rerun-heavy skeds

ABC has brightened its gloomy season with a surprise win in the Dec. 2-8 primetime Nielsen results. Keys to ABC’s narrow victory were Friday’s Barbara Walters spec, Saturday’s football, a credible start for the shuffled Wednesday lineup and fewer hours of rerun programming than its rivals.

NBC landed third in homes for the first time since Dec. 12-18, 1994, but still won the week in the key adults 18-49 and 25-54 demos despite turning over 45% of last week’s sked to reruns (ABC programmed 25% reruns, CBS 41% and Fox 10%).

Despite being hardest hit by the week’s Billy Graham preemptions, CBS took the Dec. 2-8 week in total viewers and was the only net among the Big Three to avoid big losses vs. year-ago results. The most effective stuffer of CBS’ Nielsen stocking was Sunday’s ”Mrs. Santa Claus,” the top-rated vidpic on any net this season in households.

Fox ran far ahead of year-ago figures last week, mostly on the strength of Sunday’s historic ”Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” which romped to Fox’s best movie rating ever.

NBC’s rerun-filled sked suffered soft numbers throughout the week, with every night except Sunday falling to regular-sked season lows (not including World Series nights).

ABC effectively countered NBC’s Friday and Saturday strength with extra news on Friday and football on Saturday, while further padding its advantage by running firstrun sitcoms Wednesday against NBC’s reruns.

In addition to its rerun-induced losses last week, NBC is contending with erosion at several key points on its schedule. Compared to year-ago 18-49 averages, NBC season-to-date losses include a 12% drop for ”ER,” 12% for ”Friends,” 15% for ”Frasier” and 20% for ”Unsolved Mysteries.” Election and baseball disruptions are partly, but not completely, responsible for the losses.

In evening news last week, NBC’s Tom Brokaw-anchored newscast (9.2 rating, 18 share) enjoyed its biggest margin of victory in six years, (since Nov. 18-22, 1988), besting ABC’s ”World News Tonight” (8.8/17) by 0.4 rating points.

Last week’s primetime adults 18-49 averages were: NBC, a 5.8 rating, 16 share (down in rating by 12% compared to results for the same week last year); ABC, 5.6/15 (down 11%); Fox, 5.5/15 (up 12%); CBS, 4.7/13 (up 4%); UPN, 1.7/4 (down 11%); WB, 1.0/3 (even). Fox won the week among adults 18-34 and tied ABC for second in adults 18-49 counting only the ”common time” hours programmed by Fox.

Monday

On Monday of this week, the slumping ”Monday Night Football” fell to its lowest adults 18-49 rating since Oct. 27, 1986; however, the venerable gridcast still won the night. In households, the Kansas City- Oakland matchup managed a 13.8 rating, 24 share, marking the fourth time this season the series has settled for a rating lower than any score from the previous two seasons.

Every CBS series except ”Cybill” (10.3/16) hit season-low levels. ”Murphy Brown” (9.3/14) slipped to its weakest regular-season rating since March 29, 1993, and the first rerun of ”Cosby” (9.9/16 in homes) won its half-hour in homes but was down a steep 33% compared to the 18-49 average of ”Nanny” reruns in that slot last season.

Sunday

Fox clobbered the competition in most key demos with ”Home Alone 2,” which broke the weblet’s previous record for highest-rated movie (”Die Hard,” 10.8/18) by 3 rating points. It was also a non-sports time-period record for Fox.

It’s worth noting, though, that this first run of ”Home Alone 2” on Fox was stranded 5% below NBC’s 18-49 average for a fourth run of the original ”Home Alone” this past Thanksgiving. The comparison demonstrates how hard Fox, with its weaker affiliate base, must work to match the results of its rivals, even with comparable programming.

The kid and teen appeal of ”Alone 2” dumped WB to its worst Sunday rating since Aug. 11. The Macaulay Culkin conkfest also sent NBC’s 8-9 p.m. sitcoms staggering to regular-slot season lows and dealt a fresh blow to ABC’s reeling ”Lois & Clark” -another all-time low firstrun rating, its third this season.

CBS won the night in homes, as ”Mrs. Santa Claus” delivered CBS’ highest Sunday-pic rating since April 21.

Saturday

CBS dominated the night in homes and led by 3 shares in adults 25-54, but among adults 18-49, all three rival nets finished within that same 3-share spread.

The SEC championship gridcast brought ABC an 11% improvement over its year-ago 18-49 score, equaling the Alphabet web’s second-best Saturday numbers this fall.

That sports competition sacked NBC’s strong male-appeal ”Thrillogy,” which fell to its worst numbers since the World Series. The rookie threesome still improved by 19% over NBC’s year-ago adults 18-49 rating on the night.

For the season, CBS’ rookie success ”Early Edition” is up 8% over slot predecessor ”Touched by an Angel’s” year-ago 18-49 average.

Friday

An hour less of ”TGIF” sitcoms and an hour more of news helped ABC equal its best Friday rating since last March 15.

Barbara Walters’ ”Ten Most Fascinating People of 1996” held 99% of the ’95 spec’s rating (despite a switch to a tougher night). It was ABC’s second-best rating in that hour since last May 3. At 9 p.m., a special ”20/20,” though down a share in adults 18-49 vs. the slot’s regular sitcoms, held ”Dateline NBC” to its lowest rating in that hour this season.

Though ABC won the night in adults 18-49, the Alphabet web was actually third from 8-10 p.m. behind the tie of CBS and Fox.

CBS’ ”Frosty” hour melted by 5% compared to ’95 results in adults 18-49, but ”Frosty” still doubled ABC’s kid results that hour and rolled 73% ahead of what the Eye has been averaging in adults 18-49 this fall with regular programming in the slot.

Thursday

NBC won another easy Thursday. ”Suddenly Susan” tried out the 8:30 slot it’ll take over temporarily in January and retained a mediocre 84% of its 18-49 lead-in, compared to a 91% average for slot regular ”The Single Guy.” At 9:30, a special ”Men Behaving Badly” fared better, holding 85% of its lead-in, compared to ”Susan’s” slot average of 84%.

The 8-9 p.m. competition was a lot tougher, though, with ”Winnie the Pooh” beating CBS’ regular-programming 18-49 average in that slot by 79%. That contributed to a 20% plunge in 18-49 rating for ”Friends” vs. its year-ago telecast.

CBS’ ”Moloney” suffered the week’s worst Billy Graham preemptions, reaching just 79% of the country.

At 10 p.m. ”48 Hours” fell to a season low, while slot rival ”Turning Point” hit a season high. ”Turning Point” has brought ABC a 13% adults 18-49 increase in that slot this season vs. last.

Wednesday

ABC virtually broke even with the big shakeup of its Wednesday sked, finishing with a 7.1/19 in adults 18-49 from 8-10 p.m., almost identical to the 7.0/19 season average of the previous lineup. ”Grace Under Fire” fared best, up 9% over ”Ellen’s” 18-49 average in the leadoff slot. At 9 p.m., ”Drew Carey” slipped a bit from its 9:30-10 p.m. results, but improved by 10% on ABC’s 18-49 season average in that half-hour.

The new ABC lineup sent ”NewsRadio” to its two worst regular-season ratings ever. Even with itself as a lead-in, the 9 p.m. ”NewsRadio” fumbled away 7% of its adults 18-49 lead-in, while new slot rival ”Drew Carey” built by a huge 64% on its lead-in, suggesting ”NewsRadio” is going to get crushed by ABC’s hefty sophomore hit. NBC was still up for the night by 7% vs. year-ago 18-49 results.

Fox’s ”Billboard Music Awards” took home a solid 6% increase in adults 18-49 vs. year-ago results. The strong teen/young-adult competition sent WB to its worst Wednesday average since May.

Tuesday

ABC prevailed over NBC once again on the key battleground night of Tuesday, but suffered an indignity at 8 p.m. when a firstrun ”Roseanne” lost in homes to a rerun of ”Mad About You.” ABC swept the night’s half-hours in adults 18-49.

Monday

A weak San Fran-Atlanta gridcast won the night for ABC, though Fox prevailed 8-10 p.m. among adults 18-49 (Daily Variety, Dec. 4).

Each rating point represents an estimated 970,000 households, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. The share is the same sort of percentage, except that it’s measured against only the households in which TV is being watched during the timeslot involved.

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