BASKETBALL FOULS UP SYNDIE RATINGS

Syndicated strips were heavily disrupted by CBS coverage of the NCAA March Madness tournament the week ending March 16, according to Nielsen.

Only two of the top-10 off-net sitcoms were gainers: Buena Vista TV’s “Home Improvement,” which rose 2% for the week and 6% from last year to 10.0, and Twentieth TV’s “The Simpsons,” which grew 3% for the week and 16% over last year to 7.1.

None of the magazine shows improved, as some were preempted for basketball and others went up against it. Paramount Domestic TV’s two mags, “Entertainment Tonight” (5.6) and “Hard Copy” (3.7), were preempted or delayed in 14 top markets, including five of the top seven. King World’s “Inside Edition” (4.7) and Warner Bros.’ “Extra” (3.7) were flat, while King World’s “American Journal” fell 9% to 3.2.

King World’s “Oprah” was one of three talkers to grow, rising 1% over last week and 17% from last year to 8.4. Warner Bros.’ “Rosie O’Donnell” fell for a third straight week, this time 4% to 4.6. Warner Bros.’ “Jenny Jones” climbed 2% to 4.5, up 7% over last year. Universal’s “Sally Jessy Raphael” was flat at 4.1, but up 17% from last year. Columbia TriStar TV’s “Ricki Lake” also rose 5% to 4.0, but dropped 5% from the same week last year.

Repeats of Par’s “Real TV” led the season’s new firstrun strips, gaining 3% to 3.4, flat with its metered-market lead-in. Twentieth TV’s “Access Hollywood” grew 3% to 3.1, but fell 22% from its lead-in. Worldvision’s “Judge Judy” eased 5% to 2.1, but jumped 14% from its metered-market lead-in. Warner Bros.’ “In Person with Maureen O’Boyle” soared 13% to 1.8, its best yet, but still fell 11% from lead-in.

Among new strips, CTTD’s “The Dating/Newlywed Hour” hit another all-time low, falling 7% for the week to 1.4 and plunging 13% from its metered-market lead-in. Rysher’s “Strange Universe” fell 7% to 1.3 and tied with Tribune’s “Bzzz!,” which was flat. Both also tumbled from their lead-ins.

Universal’s “Hercules” led the weeklies after surging 7% to 6.2, up 9% over last year. Universal’s “Xena” fell 8% to 5.8, but was still 12% stronger than last year. Par’s “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” slowed 4% to 5.4, off 17% from last year.

Notably, Howard Stern’s syndicated special, “The Making of Private Parts,” rated a paltry 2.2 and tied MTM’s already-canceled “The Cape” on 86 stations covering 75% of the country. However, Stern’s home market, New York, was not included in the national rating because WNBC aired the special earlier, on Feb. 24, when it brought in a much stronger 7.7/24 at 7:30 p.m.

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