Feb. sweep soft for talk

'Springer,' 'Judge Judy,' 'X-Files,' buck trend

Talkshows and off-network sitcoms were generally soft, but the February sweep was sweet for “Jerry Springer,” “Frasier,” “Entertainment Tonight,” “Judge Judy,” “The X-Files” and a handful of other syndie skeins.

USA Networks’ “Jerry Springer” and Buena Vista TV’s “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” were the only talkers to stem the tide of year-to-year losses, according to national Nielsen ratings for the 4-week period overlapping the February sweep (Feb. 5-March 4).

King World’s “Oprah Winfrey” led the yak pack with a 8.3 household rating, which marked a 4% decline from her showing in the last February sweep. By contrast, “Jerry Springer’s” meteoric rise over the past six months has pushed him into second place with a 7.8, up a cool 168% from last February.

Warner Bros.’ “Rosie O’Donnell” came in third with a 4.9, down 8% from a year ago. Paramount’s “Montel Williams” posted a 4.8, off 4% from last year. WB’s “Jenny Jones” notched a 4.4 and a 5% year-to-year loss. BVTV’s “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” was unchanged from last year at a 4.3. “Live” ended the sweep on a high note, thanks to a rare chatshow appearance by Microsoft chieftain Bill Gates, who stopped by to give Regis Philbin a tutorial on using a personal computer.

Yakkers down

USA Networks’ “Sally Jessy Raphael” weighed in with a 4.2, down 8% from year-ago. Columbia TriStar TV’s “Ricki Lake” got up to speed in February, easing just 2% from year-to-year with a 4.0. Paramount’s “Maury Povich” was down 21% from year-ago with a 3.4, and the soon-to-depart “Geraldo Rivera” averaged a 2.0, down 15%, in the final February book for his 11-year-old daytime talker.

In latenight, the just-canceled rookie “Keenen Ivory Wayans Show” averaged a 1.6, down 6% from its perf in the past November sweep. Col TriStar’s freshman strip “Vibe” posted a 1.5, down 12% from November.

Among the rest of the syndie freshman strips, Warner Bros.’ “The People’s Court” scored a 2.9, up 12% from its showing in November. Eyemark Entertainment’s “Martha Stewart Living” took in a 2.5, down 11% from November, while “Gayle King” was off 5% at a 2.0. Worldvision Enterprises’ “Pictionary” was on par with its November average with a 1.4.

In the off-net sitcom field, Paramount’s “Frasier” led the pack of comedies new to rerun-land this season. “Frasier” was up 6% from its November sweep average with a 5.6. Carsey-Werner’s “Grace Under Fire” burned out a little at a 3.0, down 6% from November. Warner Bros.’ “Living Single” was up 4% from November to a 2.6, while Buena Vista’s “Boy Meets World” dipped 4% to a 2.3.

Among the off-net vets, Buena Vista’s “Home Improvement” topped the list with an 8.7, marking an 18% decline from its showing last February. Col TriStar’s “Seinfeld” earned a 7.7, down 8% from last year in spite the torrent of publicity and press coverage leading up to the show’s primetime finale this May. Twentieth TV’s “The Simpsons” averaged a 6.4, down 10% from a year ago. Col TriStar’s “Mad About You” took in a 2.8, sliding 28% from last February.

E.T. swings

Among the access magazine strips, Paramount’s “Entertainment Tonight” scored its widest margin of victory over its competition in 10 years with a 7.1 rating, up 6% from year-ago. Warner Bros.’ “Extra” soared 26% over last year to a 4.4, thanks in part to an increase in the number of stations that carry the show.

King World’s “Inside Edition” plateaued at a 5.0, off 5% from year-ago. Par’s “Hard Copy” was down 14% from last year to a 3.7. KW’s “American Journal” fell 8% to a 3.0, while “Access Hollywood” was down 17% from year-to-year to a 2.5.

It was another solid ratings book for courtroom queen “Judge Judy,” which was up 123% from last year with a 4.7 average. Par’s “Real TV” climbed 15% from last year to a 3.9. King World’s gameshow stalwarts “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” were little changed and topped the syndie charts, as usual, with a 12.8 and 10.7, respectively.

CBS’ coverage of the 1998 Winter Olympics put a damper on the ratings for many of syndie weeklies, particularly those with primetime clearances.

The off-net “X-Files” led the field in its first February sweep with a 6.6. USA Networks’ “Xena: Warrior Princess” fell 18% from year-to-year to a 5.9, while compadre “Hercules” was also off 18% to a 5.5.

‘Star Trek’ earth-bound

Paramount’s veteran “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” sank 24% to a 4.8. Col TriStar’s off-net “Walker, Texas Ranger” came in at a 4.0 in its first February book. Tribune Entertainment/Atlantis Films’ “Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict” sealed its status as the top-rated new firstrun weekly, averaging a 3.8. Fellow Tribune/Atlantis newcomer “Nightman” pulled a 3.2, while rookie Jim Brolin-starrer “Pensacola: Wings of Gold” landed a 3.1, as did Buena Vista TV’s “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

Pearson All American’s “Baywatch” plunged 22% from year-to-year to a 3.6. MGM’s “The Outer Limits” took control of TV screens to the tune of a 3.2, off 11% from year-ago.

This season’s flock of new weekly hours seems to have created a viewing bottleneck, with most shows performing under the 3 household rating threshold. The list includes: Paramount’s “Wild Things” (2.5); USA’s “Team Knight Rider” (2.2); WB’s “Police Academy” (2.0); Rysher’s “Soldier of Fortune, Inc.” (1.9); Western Intl. Syndication’s “Conan: The Adventurer” (1.6); MGM’s “Fame L.A.” (1.3); Pearson All American’s “Ghost Stories” (1.3); Polygram TV’s “Due South” (1.0); and MG/Perin’s “Mike Hammer” (0.9).

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