Fox, ABC get Pyrrhic victories

Baseball, presidential peccadilloes hurt ratings

ABC and Fox have split primetime Nielsen honors for the Sept. 14-20 week, in results that do not bode well for the coming primetime season.

ABC led the week in homes despite a 7% drop from its year-ago average, and Fox inched ahead in adults 18-49, though it was down 12% in that category. In fact, all six broadcast nets suffered losses last week vs. year-ago results, each by 7% or more.

Viewer excitement seems particularly low at the start of this fall season, perhaps due to such forces as a lackluster lineup of new series, less adroit and aggressive promotion, unprecedented cable inroads over the past summer and stronger-than-usual viewer distractions provided by baseball and presidential peccadilloes.

For NBC, it was a particularly downbeat ending to an upbeat broadcast year. Airing mostly reruns against many early premieres, the Peacock slipped to third in homes and a tie for second in adults 18-49.

NBC’s standing should improve with firstruns this week, but year-ago levels are probably out of the question given the loss of “Seinfeld.” Last week, in its first try in the old “Seinfeld” slot, “Frasier” trailed the comparable year-ago 18-49 rating by a steep 23%.

Big guns in ABC’s households win were “Monday Night Football,” “Miss America” and three “20/20” premieres. Fox’s 18-49 coup was led by season premieres for “Ally McBeal,” “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Party of Five.”

Nielsen reports Pax TV finishing last week with an average 0.5/1 in primetime, half the 1.0 for which that newborn net is shooting.

Last week’s three-net evening news rating improved over year-ago figures by a meager 3%, despite considerable Beltway excitement over Kenneth Starr’s report. NBC nipped ABC’s resurgent newscast for first in adults 25-54.

Last week’s primetime adults 18-49 averages were: Fox, a 4.6 rating, 14 share (down 12% in rating vs. results for the same week last year); ABC, 4.5/14 (down 8%); NBC, 4.5/13 (down 21%); CBS, 3.5/10 (down 10%); WB, 1.2/3 (down 14%); UPN, 1.1/3 (down 39%), Pax TV, a 0.2 rating. UPN’s rerun lineup this year is being compared with firstruns last year, as is WB’s partially rerun schedule.

National primetime 18-49 averages for the top cable services last week were: HBO, a 1.2 rating, 4 share (up 20%); ESPN, 0.9/3 (up 29%); USA, 0.9/3 (up 29%); TNT, 0.7/2 (down 50%); TBS, 0.6/2 (down 33%). Early season NFL football has switched in the past year from TNT to ESPN.

Sunday

CBS ruled the night by 9 shares in homes, with its highest Sunday rating since April 26, and won by a fraction over NBC in adults 18-49.

In homes, CBS’ three Sunday telecasts were the three highest-rated of the week, the first time CBS has hoarded the top three spots on that list without help from specials since Feb. 15-21, 1993. The Eye’s movie “The Marriage Fool” shut the door on NBC’s “Stargate” in homes, but that 11-share advantage turned into a 2-share deficit in the 18-49 demo.

Fox fell 33% from the comparable year-ago Sunday in adults 18-49. The News Corp. net suffered 42% falloffs both at 7:30, with misbehaving rookie “Holding the Baby,” and at 9 p.m., where multiple reruns of last season’s “X-Files” episodes are wearing thin.

Those problems contributed to a 20% falloff in adults 18-49 vs. last year for the season premiere of “The Simpsons.” At 8:30, “That ’70s Show” is looking increasingly out-of-date, holding just 84% of that “Simpsons” lead-in, vs. the 98% retention of last year’s season-debut of “King of the Hill.”

WB dropped 17% behind its year-ago 18-49 average, but rookie “The Army Show” showed second-week improvement. “Army” retained 91% of its 18-49 lead-in, up from 80% the previous week.

Saturday

ABC was crowned the Saturday winner despite lowest-ever “Miss America” results, down 18% from the previous worst-ever marks of last year and behind CBS’ “Miss USA” telecast last March. ABC’s night also included the lowest-rated “Barbara Walters” special in at least 17 years. It was still ABC’s top-rated Saturday since Jan. 10 (skating).

Fox tied ABC for first in adults 18-49 and easily won 8-10 p.m. in that demo.

Friday

Clinton-boosted “20/20” led ABC to the nightlong win with the highest “20/20” Friday rating since June 22. The falloff from last year’s comparable telecast, though, was 13%. ABC’s three consecutive episodes of “Boy Meets World” built to the best “Boy” numbers of the summer.

Fox’s “Living in Captivity” managed to maintain its previous-week rating and “Getting Personal” slipped by a modest 5%, but both remain on the critical list, deep in their slot cellars in adults 18-49 vs. mostly rerun competition.

Thursday

NBC was unspectacular with its first post-“Seinfeld” Thursday, as the 9 p.m. “Frasier” lost audience vs. the previous half-hour, the first time that’s happened to NBC with series programming in that slot in more than six years (Daily Variety, Sept. 21). Overall, NBC was down 16% vs. the same Thursday last year.

ABC intro’ed its Thursday movie by topping the net’s year-ago nightlong 18-49 rating by 29%. CBS’ season premiere of “48 Hours” was up 16% in homes vs. its year-ago debut, including a 10:30-11 slot victory over an “ER” rerun.

Wednesday

Fox won the night in adults 18-49 and led 8-10 p.m. averages in households, despite the lowest-rated season premiere of “Beverly Hills 90210” in eight years (Daily Variety, Sept. 18).

ABC led 8-11 p.m. household averages as the premiere of the Wednesday “20/20” reported the highest rating for a newsmag with that moniker since Jan. 9.

A “Conan O’Brien” spec nodded off to what’s apparently NBC’s worst rating ever that hour, not including political broadcasts.

Tuesday

Fox’s first Tuesday try with a firstrun “King of the Hill” clicked, improving on last season’s 18-49 average in that slot by 45%. The premiere of “Costello” was tripped up at 8:30, though, dropping 18% of its 18-49 lead-in from “King.” (Daily Variety, Sept. 17).

“Just Shoot Me” looks like the favorite in the 9-9:30 slot, moving into that half-hour last week by equaling the best “Frasier” share in that slot during the previous seven weeks.

“Maximum Bob” expired with its lowest numbers to date, and ABC’s weakest firstrun regular-programming rating ever in that slot.

Monday

ABC led Sept. 14 results despite the lowest-rated “Monday Night Football” rating since Dec. 23, 1996 (Daily Variety, Sept. 16). Fox was a close second in adults 18-49, as the season premiere of “Ally McBeal” topped football from 9-10 p.m. in that demo.

Each household rating point represents an estimated 994,000 homes, or 1% of the country’s TV households. 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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