NBC locks it up

Web far ahead in sweeps; big gains for WB

Twelve nights into the four-week May sweeps and most of the good news is going to NBC, Fox and WB.

NBC is so far ahead in homes and key demos there’s virtually no chance the Peacock can lose the month, even if it didn’t get a colossal rating from next week’s “Seinfeld” finale. Fox is on course to beat ABC in adults 18-49 in a major sweep for the third time in a row. And WB is headed toward its best May sweeps average ever, with spectacular gains over year-ago results despite almost no sweeps scheduling stunts or specials.

ABC, CBS and UPN have yet to generate much sweeps excitement and all are down substantially from last year. CBS has settled for surprisingly mundane numbers from such promising fare as “The Last Don II,” “Dallas: War of the Ewings” and “Nicholas’ Gift.”

NBC dominated primetime Nielsens for the April 27-May 3 week, led by the usual Thursday dominance and “Merlin,” NBC’s top-rated multiple-parter in adults 18-49 since May 1984’s “V — The Final Battle.” Thursday’s “Seinfeld” is beginning to pick up momentum toward its May 14 finale, last week nearly doubling the combined ABC-CBS-Fox slot competition in adults 18-49.

With 12 nights counted in the May sweep, averages are: NBC, an 11.3 rating, 19 share (up in rating by 10% vs. results for the same period last year); CBS, 8.8/15 (down 12%); ABC, 7.7/13 (down 19%); Fox, 7.1/12 (down 3%); WB, 3.1/5 (up 29%); UPN, 2.6/4 (down 13%).

Adults 18-49 standings for the sweeps are: NBC, 7.5/21 (up 10%); Fox, 5.2/15 (down 2%); ABC, 4.3/12 (down 30%); CBS, 3.6/10 (down 16%); WB, 1.6/4 (up 33%); UPN, 1.5/4 (down 17%).

Adults 18-49 averages for the April 27-May 3 week were: NBC, 7.2/20 (up 11%); Fox, 5.2/15 (up 4%); ABC, 4.6/13 (down 34%); CBS, 3.6/10 (down 8%); WB, 1.7/5 (up 70%); UPN, 1.5/4 (down 17%).

WB’s 70% jump is the biggest year-to-year increase for any net or netlet without major sports help in two years, since a 78% increase for WB during the week of March 25-31, 1996. WB also won last week in teens and is leading that demo season-to-date.

National primetime 18-49 averages for the top cable services last week were: TNT, 1.0/3 (down 9%); USA, 0.8/2 (up 60%); TBS, 0.6/2 (up 20%); ESPN, 0.5/2 (even); Nickelodeon, 0.4/1 (up 33%); Discovery, 0.4/1 (even); Lifetime, 0.4/1 (down 20%).

In the evening-news race, CBS tied NBC for first last week and inched ahead in total viewers.

Monday

The highest-rated Monday “Dateline” (12.4 rating, 21 share) since Jan. 5 propelled NBC to a May 4 nightlong win, but the third-highest-rated “Ally McBeal” (10.4/16) kept Fox ahead in 8-10 p.m. adults 18-49 averages.

ABC’s “The Practice” (9.3/16), facing no non-news competition on the nets and still feeling a lift from its week-earlier “Ally McBeal” crossover, filed its third-highest rating ever.

The first of CBS’ 50th-anniversary specials, “CBS News at 50” (4.3/7), staggered to the Eye’s worst firstrun rating that hour since the ’96 Democratic National Convention. CBS also suffered lowest-yet firstrun ratings from “Cosby” (7.9/14), “The Closer” (5.6/9) and “Murphy Brown” (5.4/8). UPN’s “Love Boat” (2.8/5 in homes, 1.6/5 in adults 18-49) remained 1 share behind WB slot rival “7th Heaven (4.1/7 and 2.0/6) in adults 18-49. WB doubled its week-ago Monday 9-10 p.m. sitcom results with a second “7th Heaven” (3.5/5 and 1.6/4), boosting WB to its highest-rated May Monday ever.

Sunday

Fox took the night in adults 18-49 and 25-54 while CBS prevailed in homes (Daily Variety, May 5). “X-Files” led the Fox charge, winning its hour by 10 shares in adults 18-49.

The Eye’s “Last Don II, Part 1” got roughed up for just the fifth-best rating among seven multiple-parter first episodes aired this season.

“Don” was still tough enough to beat up the slot’s aggressive film competition, ABC’s “Waiting to Exhale” and NBC’s controversial, aggressively promoted “Long Island Incident.”

NBC’s hoops were up 31% over the comparable year-ago game, an L.A.-Utah matchup that didn’t include Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. NBC has featured the Bulls in all six of this season’s non-All-Star NBA telecasts to have spilled into primetime.

Saturday

An extra “Pretender” helped NBC edge ABC in adults 18-49 (Daily Variety, May 4). An “Apollo 13” rerun landed ABC’s best Saturday average in that demo in 10 weeks.

CBS led in homes, but “Dr. Quinn” and “Early Edition” didn’t help their renewal chances with worst-ever firstrun ratings. “Walker, Texas Ranger” also tripped to its second-lowest firstrun tally ever.

Friday

ABC led another Friday, though Fox was stronger 8-10 p.m. in adults 18-49. “Millennium” bagged its highest 18-49 share (14) since Nov. 14. CBS’ “Kids Say the Darndest Things” won its slot in homes for a 12th straight week.

Thursday

“Seinfeld” led another NBC Thursday romp with its best homes rating since Nov. 20 (Daily Variety, May 4). “Veronica’s Closet” retained just 72% of its 18-49 lead-in, shedding much of the male audience from “Seinfeld.” “Veronica” earned just a 28 share of men 18-49, down from “Seinfeld’s” 45.

NBC’s regulars continue to tame Fox’s “World’s Wildest Police Videos,” which settled for barely one-third of “Friends’ ” 18-49 tally from 8-8:30 (4.1 vs. 11.9).

Wednesday

ABC prevailed despite the lowest-rated firstrun “Spin City” ever and the second-weakest 18-49 lead-in retention to date by “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” (Daily Variety, May 1).

Fox was a strong second in adults 18-49, though “Beverly Hills, 90210” slowed to its lowest firstrun homes rating since Nov. 27, 1996.

CBS tried “Public Eye” on Wednesdays once again and won a half-hour in homes, but was fifth that hour in adults 18-49 behind UPN’s “Star Trek” and sixth in adults 18-34 behind WB’s sitcoms. WB’s “Wayans Bros.” sprung to its second-best rating this season, propelled by a guest appearance by Jerry Springer.

Tuesday

The biggest “Frasier” advantage ever over slot rival “Home Improvement” led NBC to a Tuesday win in homes, but Fox’s “shockumentaries” tied NBC in adults 18-49 and led 8-10 p.m. head-to-head (Daily Variety, April 30). Compared with its Tuesday season average, Fox was up 55% in adults 18-49.

“Improvement” slumped to its lowest-ever firstrun rating, as did NBC’s “Mad About You.”

UPN slipped to its lowest Tuesday with original programming since Nov. 21, 1995. WB doubled UPN despite its lowest firstrun regular-sked Tuesday to date.

Monday

The April 27 telecast of “Merlin, Part 2” elevated NBC to its best non-sports Monday rating in that slot in seven years (Daily Variety, April 29).

Each household rating point represents an estimated 980,000 homes, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.23 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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