Bowls kick Alphabet to 1st place

“Monday Night Football” may have hung up its cleats for the season, but pigskin coverage still ran enough ratings interference to put ABC first on the Nielsen scoreboard for the Dec. 30-Jan. 5 primetime week.

Thursday’s Florida-Florida State Sugar Bowl matchup, which determined college football’s championship, boosted the Alphabet net to its second-straight weeklong households victory and fourth of the season. NBC held onto the lead in the key adults 18-49 demographic, where the Peacock has nabbed 15 of 16 weeks this season.

NBC hung on despite losing Thursday to ABC’s football, the first time anything besides the World Series has topped that muscular NBC lineup since “The Stand” on May 12, 1994. Last week also saw the first wave of “second season” schedule changes, none of which has shown the promise of altering the primetime status quo. CBS’ Friday debut of “JAG” brought modest increases over failed slot predecessor “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and ABC’s Sunday switch of “Videos” and “Lois & Clark” actually lost a little ground.

In evening news, NBC’s Tom Brokaw-anchored newscast (9.5/18) stretched its lead over ABC (8.8/17) in a holiday-disrupted week for NBC’s fourth win in five weeks. It was the Peacock’s widest margin of victory since Sept. 7-11, 1987.

Last week’s primetime adults 18-49 averages were: NBC, a 6.1 rating, 16 share (down in rating by 28% compared with results for the same week a year ago, which did not include New Year’s Eve and did enjoy high viewership during a big East Coast snowstorm); ABC, 5.9/15 (down 19%); Fox, 4.8/12 (down 20%); CBS, 4.3/11 (down 25%); UPN, 1.6/4 (up 7%); WB, 1.0/3 (down 17%).

Monday

On Monday of this week, “The Secret” (12.2 rating, 19 share) propelled NBC to its widest Monday margin of victory in adults 18-49 with regular programming since Nov. 8, 1993. CBS managed to tie NBC in households.

Fox got a third-place 11 share among adults 18-49 with the re-skedded “Ned and Stacey” (6.0/9 in homes) and “Married … With Children” (5.7/9), compared with the 7 share average in that 9-10 p.m. slot for the long-since-canceled “Party Girl” and “Lush Life.”

Over the past nine weeks, various specs have averaged a 13 share among adults 18-49 for Fox in that hour. ABC dropped to fourth in adults 18-49, as its post-football Monday depression settled in. The vidpic “Badge of Betrayal” (9.0/14, 3.5 in adults 18-49) settled for just 37% of the adults 18-49 rating averaged by “Monday Night Football” (9.5).

Sunday

A colossal football overrun boosted Fox to its third-straight Sunday victory in adults 18-49 while CBS led in homes. Fox’s six-minute Dallas-Carolina spillover scored a 31.0/49, making the segment (if counted as a separate primetime program) the top-rated telecast so far this season, easily topping the previous-best 25.5/42 by “ER” on Nov. 21.

Fox’s football boost wore off by 9 p.m., when “Millennium” again proved it’s not yet in “The X-Files’ ” league. “Millennium” subbed for “X-Files” and managed a mere 12 share among adults 18-49, down 6 shares from what “X-Files” reruns average there.

ABC switched its “Videos” hour with “Lois & Clark,” changing the dynamics of both the 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. hours. Without “Videos” to contend with, “60 Minutes” hit a season best and “Dateline” managed its second-best of the term. At 8 p.m., “Touched by an Angel” seemed to benefit from “Lois’ ” departure, hitting its highest rerun rating ever, while “3rd Rock From the Sun” sank to its lowest firstrun rating since October.

Unfortunately, the switch seemed to do little for ABC, which finished the two-hour block down 9% from its season average – and that average was already down 28% from year-ago results, making Sunday evenings one of the biggest contributors to ABC’s slide this season.

Saturday

Fox led the 8-10 p.m. block in adults 18-49 with its best non-baseball average since March 23. NBC’s 8-11 p.m. 18-49 average matched Fox’s first-place figure, and the Peacock is now tied with CBS for the season-long Saturday lead in adults 18-49, after having run fourth last season.

CBS won in homes but slipped in key demos with skating, which earned just a 10 share from the adults 25-54 judges. CBS has averaged a 15 share for that two-hour slot this season.

Friday

The highest adults 18-49 rating ever for a Friday “Dateline” boosted NBC to a rare Friday win, its first in adults 18-49 with regular programming since Aug. 5, 1988, in the days of “Miami Vice” and “Blacke’s Magic.”

Fox stumbled as “Millennium” hit its worst firstrun rating yet, a figure lower than any firstrun “X-Files” in that slot since the ’94 Winter Olympics. Compared with the same Friday a year ago, Fox was down by a spooky 28% among adults 18-49.

The CBS premiere of “JAG,” transferred in from NBC, filed a 4.6/11 among adults 25-54, a decent improvement over the average 4.2/11 of failed slot predecessor “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”

Thursday

ABC’s Florida-Florida State gridcast sacked NBC and snapped a streak of 142 consecutive regular-slot victories for “Seinfeld,” dating back to the ’94 Lillehammer Olympics.

ABC’s football did slip by 5% compared with last year’s Nebraska-Florida title game, due to the tough NBC competition and perhaps the one-state concentration of this year’s matchup. It was the first sub-30 share for a bowl game that would decide the national championship in seven years. Among adults 18-49, the Sugar Bowl finished 4 shares below April’s NCAA basketball title game.

Wednesday

ABC’s sitcoms and its Rose Bowl overrun put the Alphabet back in first on Wednesday. It was the lowest-rated Rose Bowl spillover in three years, down 9% from last year’s powerful Northwestern-Southern Cal matchup.

CBS’ Fiesta Bowl was second in homes, third in adults 18-49. It was apparently the lowest-rated solo New Year’s Night bowlcast ever (though several “second-banana” Jan. 1 primetime games have scored lower).

A primetime intro for ABC’s new latenight entry, “Politically Incorrect,” displayed some network-level strength, though the competition fattened up during the 10:30-11 p.m. half-hour while “Incorrect’s” rating slipped by 10%.

With no sitcoms competing in the 8-9 p.m. hour, “Wings” took off, scoring its best two ratings since shifting to Wednesdays last summer.

Tuesday

The Orange Bowl gave CBS its first Tuesday win among adults 18-49 in the year since Jan. 2, 1996 (the Nebraska-Florida Fiesta Bowl). The Nebraska-Virginia Tech matchup improved by 24% on the ’95 New Year’s Eve matchup, a Virginia Tech-Texas Sugar Bowl, but it was also the lowest-rated Orange Bowl in four years.

Special episodes of “Sabrina” and “Clueless” didn’t help ABC much, pulling the net down to its lowest 18-49 shares that hour since the Summer Olympics. At 10 p.m., “NYPD Blue” equaled its lowest-ever rating.

Monday

ABC won the season’s first post-football Monday with “Breaking Through” (Daily Variety, Jan. 2).

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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