Big Monday pushes NBC to ratings peak

'Diana,' 'Dateline,' dramas lift Peacock over others

NBC’s highest-rated Monday since “Merlin” and its best Friday since the NBA playoffs have led the Peacock to victory in Aug. 31-Sept. 6 primetime Nielsens.

NBC picked up momentum toward the launch of its fall season in two weeks, as Monday’s “Diana” documentary and Friday’s combo of “Dateline” and dramas boosted those nights and complemented NBC’s usual Tuesday and Thursday strength.

A highlight of the week was the return of NFL football to the CBS Sunday afternoon sked, but the Eye seemed to roughly break even in primetime during its first week back in the NFL fold. There was a stirring N.Y. Jets-San Francisco 49’ers overrun that led to breakthrough CBS demos Sunday night, but also record-low Friday results from an hourlong season-preview special.

The nets’ weeklong results were delayed by Nielsen until late Wednesday due to the Labor Day holiday and problems processing Sunday’s multiple sports overruns and the many preemptions that night for Jerry Lewis’ muscular dystrophy telethon. In fact, Nielsen plans to revise Fox’s averages (probably slightly downward) Friday morning when it will have finally processed Fox’s Sunday 7-8 p.m. results and figured them into the week’s averages.

Nielsen was also unable to issue full first-week ratings for newly launched Pax TV. In Monday-through-Friday primetime results, the family-friendly netlet earned a 0.7 rating, 1 share shy of the 1.0 rating average for which Pax TV is shooting. Demos were, as expected, elderly, with the weblet earning a 0.3/1 in adults 18-49 and a 0.8/2 among adults 65 and older, its top demo.

Last week’s adults 18-49 averages were: NBC, a 4.2 rating, 14 share (down 24% versus the comparable 1997 week); Fox, 3.3/11 (down 3%); ABC, 3.2/11 (down 33%); CBS, 2.8 (down 10%); WB, 1.2 (down 8%); UPN, 0.9 (down 67%).

National primetime 18-49 averages for the top cable services last week were: ESPN, a 1.4 rating, 5 share (up 75% versus year-ago numbers); HBO, 1.3/4 (up 8%); TNT, 0.8/3 (down 38%); TBS, 0.7/2 (even); and Lifetime, 0.6/2 (up 20%). The big ESPN gain and TNT loss reflects the shift of early-season Sunday night NFL football from TNT to ESPN.

The week saw big year-to-year drops for USA (0.3/1, down 50%), MTV (0.3/1, down 63%) and CNN (0.2/1, down 60%). The 42 channels individually measured by Nielsen totaled an 11.3/35, even with the year-ago week.


Fox hit a ratings homer Sept. 8 with its coverage of the game in which Mark McGwire clouted his record-breaking home run (12.9 rating, 21 share), achieving the top regular-season baseball rating since 1982 (see separate story).

CBS finished second for the night, 7 shares behind Fox’s baseball.


ABC has dominated Sept. 7 nationals, despite the lowest-rated “Monday Night Football” opener ever (14.8/24) (Daily Variety, Sept. 9). It’s indicative of football’s strength that a record-low number on Monday beat baseball’s Tuesday national rating by 15%, which reps the highest regular-season baseball rating since the early 1980s.


With its first NFL lead-in in 4-1/2 years, CBS surged to nightlong wins in homes, adults 18-49 and 25-54 and men 18-49 and 25-54. It was the first CBS Sunday win in both those male demos since March 31, 1996 (“Tango & Cash”).

Compared with the Sunday of Labor Day weekend last year, CBS was up by 59% in men 18-49 (a 4.3 rating vs. a 2.7) and up 43% in adults 18-34 (3.0 vs. 2.1).

Telethon preemptions helped drop ABC to what’s apparently its lowest-rated Sunday ever.

Fox’s “That ’70s Show” continues to perform solidly, last Sunday retaining 100% of its 18-49 lead-in from “The Simpsons.”


Fox’s regulars nipped NBC in homes and adults 18-49. College football punted CBS into first in men 25-54 and into a tie in men 18-49 with Fox.


Newsmag “20/20” won the night for ABC in adults 18-49, but NBC sneaked ahead in homes with its strongest Friday average in 12 weeks.

“Getting Personal” is failing to catch on for Fox on Fridays, last week slipping to that net’s worst Friday 8:30-9 p.m. rating ever. In the six weeks since “Personal” moved to the Friday lineup, schedule mate “Millennium” has reported its sixth lowest ratings ever.

CBS collapsed to its worst Friday rating since July 4, 1997, as an “NFL Summer Camp” spec fumbled to what’s apparently the Eye’s worst rating ever that hour.

With the CBS lineup getting thrown for a loss, NBC’s “Law & Order” capitalized, improving by a stunning 62% in the second try of its brief late-summer Friday run. At 10 p.m., the Peacock’s returning “Homicide” scored its top nonregular-season rating since May 24, 1996.


NBC’s planned “Seinfeld” replacement “Frasier” continues to underperform slot predecessor “Just Shoot Me” in the 9:30 half-hour, holding 91% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Seinfeld” while “Shoot” averaged a 1% improvement there. “Frasier” looks more impressive at 8:30, where it managed NBC’s best perf vs. the slot’s 18-49 lead-in (up 1%) since May 28, which was the last time “Just Shoot Me” aired in that half-hour.


The second regular Wednesday “Dateline NBC” fell 18% short of the Hurricane Bonnie-boosted 18-49 rating of the previous week, but still finished 24% ahead of NBC’s pre-“Dateline” average in that slot this summer (a 3.6 rating vs. a 2.9).

“Dateline” is putting the heat on ABC’s “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place,” which last Wednesday held a worst-yet 83% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Dharma & Greg.”

ABC still led the night by 5 shares in adults 18-49. At 9:30, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and “Working” weakened each other, with “Whose Line” failing to match its 18-49 lead-in for the first time and “Working” settling for its weakest 18-49 build vs. lead-in in its last nine tries in that slot.

CBS’ “Chicago Hope” slipped to its lowest rating ever.


NBC may be in trouble in the Tuesday lead-off slot, with “Mad About You” again tumbling to lowest-ever numbers and falling 7 shares out of the slot lead in adults 18-49.

At 9 p.m., consistent “Frasier” earned a 7.6 household rating for a fifth week in a row, while ABC’s slow-starting slot rival “Spin City” continued to pick up momentum and pulled within 1 share of “Frasier” in adults 18-49, up from a 6-share deficit six weeks ago.

The top-rated Tuesday “Dateline” in 11 tries kept NBC first for the night, though Fox had the top 8-10 p.m. average in adults 18-49.

CBS’ “Children of the Dust” averaged a 7.5/13 in homes over its two nights, ranking it second among 12 rerun multiple-parters aired by the nets this summer.

The WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” hit its lowest ebb to date.


NBC’s Aug. 31 “Diana” docu boosted NBC to the highest Monday rating for any net this summer (Daily Variety, Sept. 2).

Each household rating point represents an estimated 994,000 homes, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.239 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. A share is the same sort of percentage, except it measures only the homes or viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.

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