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TV SKED-FLIPS FLOP

NBC wins week as tweaks wreak net havoc

NBC remained on top of the primetime Nielsens heap in March 10-16 results, a week marked by big disappointment for most recent schedule changes and additions.

Taking big nosedives last week were ABC’s two most ballyhooed late-season entries, ”Arsenio” and ”The Practice,” as well as Fox’s ”Pauly” and NBC’s ”Prince Street” (already detoured off the schedule).

Those series have joined a growing list of recent scheduling misfires that include ABC’s ”Spy Game” and CBS’ ”EZ Streets.” Also losing some of their previous-week steam in March 10-16 results were ABC’s ”Step By Step” on Friday and CBS’ Wednesday newcomers ”Temporarily Yours” and ”Feds.” The Eye’s revamped Monday lineup also cooled last week, but rebounded somewhat on Monday of this week.

Actually showing a bit of improvement last week were ABC’s switch of ”Ellen” to Tuesdays and a couple of rookies that benefited from hoops preemptions, NBC’s ”Crisis Center” on Friday and ABC’s ”Dangerous Minds,” recently switched to Saturday.

Besides WB’s hot-starting ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the only recent schedule changes that looked like successes last week were ABC’s Thursday addition of ”Vital Signs” and NBC’s shuffling of its Wednesday sitcom lineup, particularly the launch of ”Just Shoot Me” at 9:30.

”Buffy” led WB to a second-place finish last week among teens (behind only Fox) and to season-high 18-49 and 18-34 averages.

CBS dropped out of the households lead last week after earning at least a share of first the previous two weeks. The Eye sacrificed some its usual households strength for the valuable demographics of the NCAA basketball tournament last week, with encouraging results.

Through last Sunday, the tournament’s ratings are up modestly, from last year’s average 6.4 rating, 12 share, to a 6.6/13 this year. It’s the tourney’s best average at this point in three years, a stirring performance in an era of precipitous losses across most of the primetime schedule.

March 10-16 adults 18-49 averages were: NBC, a 6.3/18 (down in rating by 6% vs. results for the same week last year); ABC, 5.0./14 (down 9%), tied with Fox, 5.0/14 (even); CBS, 4.2/12 (down 13%); UPN, 2.0/5 (down 13%); WB, 1.5/4 (even).

Monday

On Monday of this week (17), CBS tied Fox in adults 18-49 (though Fox led its 8-10 p.m. block) and CBS swept the night in households.

The best news for the Eye came at 8:30, when ”Everybody Loves Raymond” (9.9 rating, 16 share) built by 18% on its 25-54 lead-in from ”Cosby” (10.1/16, rerun). That’s up from builds of 4% and 2% for ”Raymond’s” previous Monday tries. At 9:30, ”Ink” (9.0/15, rerun) is sloshing in the other direction, holding just 85% of its 25-54 lead-in, down from 89% and 91% the previous two weeks.

Still, CBS’ 8-10 p.m. sitcoms equaled their March 10 25-54 average with three of four shows in rerun March 17. ”Chicago Hope” was the Eye’s top-rated show in homes and virtually all key demos.

”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” continues to nail down hit numbers for WB, nearly equaling its record overnights (5.0/8 vs. 5.1/8) of last week despite a key preemption in Chicago.

Fox’s struggling ”Pauly” (4.6/7) rebounded to hold a respectable 86% of its 18-49 lead-in.

Sunday

Fox continued its mastery of the Sunday 18-49 competition, while CBS edged ahead in adults 25-54 and dominated in homes.

”The Simpsons” and ”King of the Hill” (in rerun) led the hyper-competitive 8-9 p.m. hour among adults 18-49, where ABC’s onetime heavyweight ”Home Videos” settled for fourth. ”Videos” was even down 6% from ABC’s year-ago 18-49 score that hour with a ”Lois & Clark” rerun.

At 9 p.m., ”The X-Files” swept all adults-men-women breakouts in the 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 categories.

CBS was led by the third-highest-rated ”Touched by an Angel” ever.

For the hour, CBS was up by 37% in adults 18-49 vs. the slot’s comparable year-ago figures.

Saturday

CBS’ mix of hoops and series programming took the night in homes and adults 25-54, while Fox managed a tie in adults 18-49. Fox’ ”America’s Most Wanted” pulled an odd coup, winning its hour in homes despite running second from 9-9:30 and third from 9:30-10.

When CBS rested ”Dr. Quinn” for basketball, it freed up older viewers for the competition, fattening their household numbers but not doing as much in the key quest for young adults. ABC’s ”Dangerous Minds” improved by 29% in homes but just 11% among adults 18-49 vs. previous-week numbers, while ”Dark Skies” brightened by 30% in homes but just 12% in adults 18-49.

Friday

ABC hung on to first despite a couple of reruns on its sked, though Fox had a better 18-49 average from 8-10 p.m. (as did NBC). In the second week of its return engagement, ABC’s ”Step By Step” quieted considerably, holding 92% of its 18-49 lead-in from ”Sabrina,” down from 100% the previous week (though still ahead of the 85% average of slot predecessor ”Clueless”).

Most of the night’s regulars enjoyed ratings rallies as CBS benched its series for basketball. The night’s combined men 18-49 rating, a 17.6, ballooned by 23% over the previous Friday’s 14.3, while women 18-49 inched up by just 3% from a 17.8 to an 18.3. Fox still managed to lead basketball from 8-10 p.m. in men 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.

Against hoops, NBC rookie ”Crisis Center” improved by a big 35% over its previous-week 18-49 stats, though basketball still topped ”Crisis” in that key demo.

Thursday

NBC again won Thursday uncontested, but again badly missed ”ER.”

The start of a three-episode ”Law & Order” arc in the regular ”ER” slot earned a 9.1 rating in adults 18-49, 43% below ”ER’s” 16.0 average there. It was still ”Law’s” highest 18-49 rating ever.

Against ”Law,” an ABC News spec on marijuana inhaled the Alphabet’s best 18-49 rating that hour since Jan. 1. At 9 p.m., the promising rookie ”Vital Signs” charted ABC’s best regular-series 18-49 rating in that slot since March 2, 1995 (”The Commish”).

Wednesday

Fox provided the night’s stunner with its ”Battle of the Sexes on Ice,” which received the highest skatecast score on any net in nearly a year (since ABC’s world championships March 23, 1996), enough to win the 8-10 p.m. slot in households. As usual, though, skating’s demos were unimpressive — in homes it was Fox’ second-highest-rated Wednesday since the World Series, but in adults 18-49 it was Fox’s lowest-rated since Jan. 1.

It was a heartbreaking night for ABC, despite a solid win in homes and most key demos. The eagerly anticipated ”Arsenio” fell out of contention with its second airing, holding just 72% of its 18-49 lead-in from ”Drew Carey,” compared to a 90% retention with its previous-week premiere. It was ABC’s worst retention in that slot in the 15 weeks ”Carey” has aired at 9 p.m.

The challenge now becomes either to find a way to bring viewers back to ”Arsenio” or find a more compatible lead-in with comparable Nielsen clout.

By contrast, slot rival ”Just Shoot Me” last week built on its feebler 18-49 lead-in by 29%. NBC says ”Shoot” is the only midseason replacement show to improve in adults 18-49 with its second telecast (up 10%).

NBC hit a dead end at 10 p.m., though, when ”Prince Street” managed barely half the 18-49 average of slot regular ”Law and Order” (a 3.8 rating vs. a 6.8). NBC immediately closed ”Street’s” run. Also getting torn up that hour was CBS’ ”EZ Streets,” which veered downhill to CBS’ worst 25-54 rating in the slot since ”EZ’s” one-night stand there last October.

Fox’s skating also helped chill CBS’ rookies earlier in the evening — ”Feds” faded by 13% among adults 25-54 in its second try, and ”Temporarily Yours” slipped from its previous-week 100% retention of its 25-54 lead-in from ”The Nanny” to 88% last week (still up from slot predecessor ”Pearl’s” 81% average).

NBC’s shift of ”NewsRadio” to 8 p.m. almost won that slot among adults 18-49 and helped drop ”Grace Under Fire” to its lowest firstrun household rating ever. That led to NBC’s best 8-10 p.m. Wednesday 18-49 average in six weeks.

Tuesday

ABC lost another key Nielsen ruling when ”The Practice” plunged by 25% among adults 18-49 in its second try, for ABC’s worst firstrun average in that slot (non-news) since at least the summer of ’94.

That demoralizing collapse and a trio of sitcom reruns dropped ABC three shares behind NBC for the night among adults 18-49. ”Dateline NBC” enjoyed its biggest-ever Tuesday margin of victory against firstrun competition.

”Ellen” provided a silver lining for ABC, improving from a 6% falloff from its 18-49 lead-in March 4 (vs. a special ”Mad About You”) to a 15% build March 11 (vs. ”Something So Right”).

UPN’s ”Blockbuster Awards” grew by 38% over its year ago telecast, when it was establishing a UPN beachhead on Wednesday nights.

Monday

Last Monday (10), NBC and Fox tied among adults 18-49, NBC prevailed in adults 25-54 and CBS led in homes (Daily Variety, March 12).

WB beat UPN in adults 18-49 for the first time on a Monday with ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which set a WB Monday ratings record by 21% over the old mark of 2.8/4. UPN, however, stayed ahead in homes with its best Monday average since Nov. 4, thanks to a special ”Moesha.”

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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