ALPHABET OUT IN FRONT

'Ellen' 'Gump,' 'Shining' boost web in week's demos

The surprising strength of the “Ellen” coming-out episode, along with less spectacular but solid results from “Forrest Gump” and “Stephen King’s The Shining,” have propelled ABC to the head of the pack in the April 28-May 4 primetime Nielsens and back into the thick of the May sweeps race.

ABC won the week in virtually all demo breakouts, including kids, teens and adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54. It’s the first time in 34 weeks ABC has led the 18-49 standings, or that any net has beaten NBC in that key demo without help from major sports. It also was ABC’s highest weeklong 18-49 average in the 16 months since Jan. 1-7, 1996.

A week ago, ABC was reeling from what was arguably the worst sweeps start in the history of the Big Three nets, but last week the highest-rated “Ellen” ever and other strong sweeps performances turned the month around for the Alphabet web.

Now, it’s sweeps leader NBC that needs a rally. With ho-hum numbers from its “Invasion” two-parter and a schedule that’s saving most of its heavyweights for late this month (including “The Odyssey,” a 3-D “3rd Rock From the Sun” and the childbirth episode of “Mad About You”), NBC currently is down by huge chunks compared with year-ago results.

Through Monday, 12 nights into the four-week sweeps, NBC is holding onto the lead despite an 18% falloff vs. May ’96. Those averages are: NBC, a 10.3 rating, 18 share (down 18%); CBS, 10.0/17 (up 1%); ABC, 9.5/16 (up 8%); Fox, 7.3/12 (up 6%).

NBC’s lead is more comfortable in the key adults 18-49 demo, where the 12-night averages are: NBC, 6.8/19 (down 18%); ABC, 6.1/17 (up 24%); Fox, 5.3/15 (up 8%); CBS, 4.3/12 (even).

ABC’s gains last week came largely in younger audience segments that are of great value to advertisers. For example, the Alphabet is up 33% so far this May in adults 18-34.

Last week’s ABC resurgence extended to the evening-news race, where the Alphabet beat NBC’s newscast for the first time in 19 weeks (a span that includes four ties for first between ABC and the Peacock net).

UPN won last week’s battle of the emerging netlets, beating WB in their eight head-to-head half-hours by an average of 53%.

Last week’s adults 18-49 averages were: ABC, 7.0/19 (up 40%); NBC, 6.5/18 (down 22%); Fox, 5.0/14 (up 6%); CBS, 3.9/11 (down 11%); UPN, 1.8/5 (up 13%); WB, 1.0/3 (down 9%).

Monday

Fox dominated 18-49 results for Monday of this week, as the last firstrun episode of “Married … With Children” (10.0 rating, 16 share) earned that sitcom’s best numbers since Feb. 26, 1995. It also was Fox’s best 18-49 rating in that time period since a two-hour “Melrose Place” in February ’96. Fox won the night by 3 shares in adults 18-49, winning all four of its half-hours.

NBC was second in that demo, while squeaking out the households win with “Invasion, Part 2” (10.8/17). For its two-night run, “Invasion” managed an unimpressive 11.1/18, 9% behind last week’s “Stephen King’s The Shining,” which has been regarded as a disappointment for ABC.

“Invasion” ranks sixth out of the 10 multiple-parters aired this season on the Big Three, while “The Shining” holds the fourth spot.

CBS’ “Murphy Brown” (7.9/13, lowest firstrun ever) looks finished as a Monday regular. This week, “Brown” lost 9% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Cosby” to fall deep into fourth that half-hour. WB’s “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” (1.9/3) is cowering in May, after a fearless debut in March.

Sunday

ABC dominated with its highest Sunday-pic rating since “The Lion King” on Nov. 3.

CBS won this highly competitive night in households, though it ran a distant fourth in adults 18-49 and a respectable third in adults 25-54.

The Eye now calculates its “60 Minutes” will finish the season in the top 10 among households for a 20th season straight, easily the most in TV history (though if the six-episode run of NBC’s “Fired Up” is included in the list, “60 Minutes” probably will drop to 11th).

Without Michael Jordan on the marquee, NBC’s basketball numbers deflated, down 36% from the previous week’s primetime overrun and 44% from the year-ago coverage (both those matchups featured Jordan’s Chicago Bulls). Sunday’s L.A.-Utah game still won that hour among adults 18-49.

Saturday

CBS dominated in homes and adults 25-54, but beat younger-skewing NBC by just 0.2 rating points in adults 18-49. “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” slipped to its lowest firstrun rating to date.

The hot sweeps competition melted ABC’s “Gun” 3 shares below its previous worst 18-49 score.

Friday

Fox swept its four half-hours in adults 18-49, though “20/20” gave ABC enough of a 10-11 p.m. boost to lift the Alphabet’s 8-11 p.m. average to a tie with Fox’s 8-10 p.m. score. It was Fox’s strongest in seven weeks.

Thursday

“The Shining” dug up ABC’s best non-sports Thursday rating since Feb. 22, 1996 (“The Bodyguard”), but still fell short of expectations, ending its three-night run with a 12.2/19 average. That’s down 37% from the last Stephen King-penned mini, May 1995’s “The Langoliers” (19.4/30).

NBC again dominated Thursday, more than doubling ABC’s nightlong 18-49 average. The Peacock’s late-season addition “Fired Up” withered against the tough sweeps competition, holding just 74% of its 18-49 lead-in. It was NBC’s second-worst retention in that post- “Seinfeld” slot since the days of “Madman of the People.”

“Martin” wrapped its five-season run with a minor surge — Fox’s second-highest 18-49 rating that hour in six weeks.

Wednesday

The “coming-out” episode of “Ellen” earned ABC’s second-highest rating of the season, behind only the “69th Academy Awards.” In adults 18-49, it was ABC’s highest series rating in the more than three years since the March 9, 1994, “Home Improvement.” “Ellen” also more than doubled the combined CBS-NBC-Fox 18-49 score that hour.

“Grace Under Fire” led into that record “Ellen” with its highest rating since September, while lead-out “PrimeTime Live” reported its best numbers since June 14, 1995.

Against the “Ellen” hoopla, “Pacific Palisades” suffered the lowest firstrun regular-series rating ever for Fox in that slot. UPN’s “Star Trek: Voyager” cruised to third that hour among adults 18-49, stunning CBS, Fox and WB.

Tuesday

ABC took the night by 3 shares in adults 18-49 as “Soul Man” completed its tantalizing three-issue run still looking like a hit. “Soul” ascended 29% above its 18-49 lead-in from “Home Improvement,” trouncing slot rival “Something So Right” (down a worst-ever 27% from its 18-49 lead-in).

NBC’s “Mad About You” looked strong, beating a rerun “Improvement” by 4 shares among adults 18-49.

“The Mask” topped Fox’ season-long Tuesday 18-49 average by a smokin’ 33%.

UPN’s “Homeboys in Outer Space” held just 67% of its lead-in from “Moesha,” way down from the 90% average of recent slot occupant “Social Studies” (generally against easier competition).

Monday

ABC took April 28 by 5 shares in adults 18-49 as “Stephen King’s The Shining” snowed under the competition. It was ABC’s highest-rated Monday pic in the two years since “The Langoliers.”

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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