Comics’ relief

Seinfeld B'way spec, Leno PPV ring fling zing nets

NEW YORK — With two pieces of stunt programming starring network comics, cablers had the biggest laugh on Sunday.

While CBS won the night overall with a 9.4 rating and 17 share, HBO’s “Jerry Seinfeld: I’m Telling You for the Last Time — Live on Broadway” drew a 4.1 national rating, the highest-rated comedy spec on the pay-cabler in five years. HBO reported that the program reached 11.2 million people, nearly doubling the average audience for that time period.

In just HBO households, the Seinfeld spec scored a 13.2 rating/20 share, according to Nielsen Media Research. The 9-10:15 p.m. Seinfeld perf outperformed all four broadcast networks in HBO’s universe.

And a pay-per-view wrestlecast pitting latenight king Jay Leno vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan grossed $12 million, as an estimated 400,000 people purchased the World Championship Wrestling match at $29.95 a pop. The buyers were roughly double the numbers from last year’s WCW event (which didn’t include Leno).

Meanwhile, cabler USA scored a Sunday victory of its own, as an original episode of “Pacific Blue” pulled in more viewers than any other series episode in the history of the cabler.

Notably, Seinfeld’s spec attracted 4.5 million adults 18-49, more than ABC, Fox or CBS reached on average during the week, though HBO is viewed in less than one-third of the country’s TV homes.

HBO’s Seinfeld special provided a great lead-in for its series “Sex and the City.” The half-hour comedy achieved an 8.9 rating in the HBO universe and a 2.8 rating in all TV homes.

On World Championship Wrestling’s third annual “Road Wild” event, “Tonight Show” host Leno made his wrestling debut as he teamed with “Diamond” Dallas Page in a tag team match against Hogan and WCW executive producer Eric Bischoff. Leno and Page won the match.

Cable systems are notoriously slow in reporting PPV sales numbers. This estimate is based on an initial survey of cable systems. About 200,000 people purchased the second “Road Wild” event last summer. The WCW rep attributed the added PPV buys this year to Leno’s appearance and his frequent promotion of the event on “The Tonight Show.”

In addition, WCW execs said they spent nearly $500,000 to promote the match. WCW is owned by Turner Broadcasting System, a division of Time Warner.

“Pacific Blue” harvested a 4.0 Nielsen rating in cable homes at 8 p.m., which factored out to 2,959,000 households. The previous USA series-episode record holder, a “Silk Stalkings” hour in December 1995, also chalked up a 4.0 rating, but at that time USA had access to fewer eyeballs, so the 4 represented only 2,667,000 households.

Also helping “Blue” on Sunday was its lead-in, a special one-hour World Wrestling Federation extravaganza. The spec, which scored a 4.2 rating at 7 p.m., figured to get a pre-tune in boost from the wrestling pay-per-view event, as well.

“Pacific Blue’s” success comes as part of the cabler’s growing Sunday-night action block from 8 to 11 p.m. of “Blue,” “Silk Stalkings” and “La Femme Nikita.” Since the block kicked in three Sundays ago, the average overall rating of the three-hour lineup has gone up from a 2.2 (July 26) to a 2.5 (Aug. 2) to last Sunday’s 2.9 rating.

“The most successful hourlong shows on the broadcast networks often don’t hit their stride until the third or fourth season on the air,” says Tim Brooks, senior VP of research for USA Networks.

“Pacific Blue” premiered on USA March 2, 1996, and a recent series of cast changes, headed by Mario Lopez, has reeled in new viewers to the show, Brooks said.

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