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NBC shows ‘Sein’ of decline

Primetime drawing yawns

Viewers continue to greet the new primetime season with a collective yawn, as NBC’s “Frasier” made its firstrun debut in the old “Seinfeld” slot to indifferent response and most of the Friday and Saturday rookies settled for ho-hum Nielsen numbers.

The most promising freshman performance on those nights probably came from ABC’s potential “T.G.I.F.” savior, “Two of a Kind,” while the Alphabet’s Saturday rookie “Cupid” ranks among the bigger disappointments.

Latest Nielsens for the new season show NBC remaining dominant on Thursday, albeit down sharply from last year; ABC opening up a demographic edge in the wide-open Friday race; and CBS possibly re-asserting itself as the Saturday leader, at least until NBC premieres its lineup.

Fox is out of the race on Thursday and virtually dead on Friday.

The upstart Murdoch net has failed to top older-skewing CBS on any night from Tuesday through Saturday of premiere week in the Fox target demo of adults 18-49. NBC, meanwhile, suffered double-digit losses on each of the week’s first five nights before finally pulling out a gain with specials on Saturday.

On Thursday, NBC clearly missed the retired “Seinfeld,” whose replacement, “Frasier,” slipped 24% below “Seinfeld’s” year-ago homes rating, 29% behind its adults 18-49 score and a disturbing 38% below its men 18-49 result. Perhaps most alarming of all, “Frasier” merely equaled NBC’s unspectacular demo results the previous half-hour from the rookie “Jesse.”

“Frasier” managed an 18.8 rating, 29 share in homes and a 14.2/36 in adults 18-49, which reps no significant improvement over NBC’s 8:30-9 p.m. figures from “Jesse” (18.1/28 in homes, 14.2/37 in adults 18-49). “Frasier’s” household score was NBC’s lowest in that slot with regular, first-run fare since May 11, 1995.

None of this seriously endangers NBC’s Thursday lead — the Peacock still beat the combined 18-49 averages of ABC, CBS and Fox for the night. But NBC was down 19% in adults 18-49 vs. last year and down 27% among men 18-49.

The Peacock fared best at 8 p.m. with the resolution of a marriage cliffhanger on “Friends” (20.0/33 in homes, up 3% vs. last year, and 16.6/46 in adults 18-49, up 8%). It was “Friends’ ” top 18-49 rating since Feb. 1, 1995.

At 8:30, “Jesse” held 86% of that 18-49 lead-in, down from the premiere 88% retention of last year’s rookie in that time period, the long-forgotten “Union Square.” It was still NBC’s highest 18-49 result from regular programming in the slot since March 28, 1996.

At 9:30, the return of “Veronica’s Closet” (16.8/25 in homes, 12.8/31 in adults 18-49) held 90% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Frasier.” Last year, “Closet” opened with a 95% retention of its lead-in from “Seinfeld,” and then settled for an 81% average over the course of the season.

As expected, “ER” (21.7/35 in homes, down 24% vs. last year; 17.0/43 in adults 18-49, down 27%) failed to approach its year-ago live-telecast numbers. A truer measure of erosion for the $13 million-an-episode drama is the 9% drop vs. its 18-49 premiere numbers of two years ago. That’s a reasonable rate of decline for a show entering its fifth season, though any erosion at all is unwelcome for a series commanding “ER’s” pricetag.

NBC won Thursday in adults 18-49 by an overwhelming 28 shares over second-place ABC (up 62% over its year-ago rating), which topped Fox (down 9%) and CBS (even) by 3 shares. WB (1.1/3 in adults 18-49) equaled its mediocre previous-week Thursday premiere.

CBS was second in homes, 18 shares behind NBC.

Biggest Thursday gains came from ABC’s movie (“Executive Decision”).

Fox stumbled, with “Police Videos” (5.0/8 in homes) and “Fox Files” (4.6/7) failing to match last year’s long-gone lineup of “Living Single,” “Between Brothers” and “413 Hope Street.”

In preliminary nationals for Friday, ABC’s “Two of a Kind” (7.8/15 in homes, 4.0/15 in adults 18-49) premiered credibly, equaling the year-ago homes result in that slot of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” At 9:30, freshman “Brother’s Keeper” (7.5/14 in homes, 4.4/14 in adults 18-49) lost 12% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Sabrina,” enough to fumble away the slot lead but an OK start for “Keeper.”

CBS rookie “Buddy Faro” (6.9/12 in homes, 2.8/9 in adults 18-49) made some strides in the right direction for CBS, up 23% in adults 25-54 and 59% in men 25-54 vs. the Eye’s week-earlier year-ago premieres. But “Buddy’s” adults 18-49 stats were down 11% vs. the same Friday last year with “Gregory Hines” and “Step by Step.”

ABC improved by 5% over premiere Friday last year in adults 18-49 and led the night by 3 shares over NBC (down 16%). CBS (down 6%) was another share back and the dying Fox lineup (down 57%) was an embarrassing 5 shares behind CBS. In homes, ABC beat NBC for the night by a single share, with CBS (up 12% over last year) another share back.

In prelim nationals for Saturday, ABC’s premiere of “Fantasy Island” (5.9/11 in homes, 3.6/12 in adults 18-49) managed a credible start at 9 p.m., one share out of the slot lead in adults 18-49. At 10 p.m., though, “Cupid” (5.2/10 in homes, 3.3/10 in adults 18-49) misfired, falling seven shares out of the lead.

CBS got so-so results from the 9 p.m. premiere of “Martial Law” (8.1/15 in homes, 3.7/12 in adults 18-49) but that action lead-in seemed to help 10 p.m.’s “Walker, Texas Ranger” (11.1/21 in homes, up 10% over last year’s premiere, and 5.7/17 in adults 18-49, up 14%).

CBS was still down for the night vs. last year by 9% in adults 18-49, but beat NBC’s specials (up 15% vs. last year) by a fraction for the nightlong win. ABC (down 9%) and Fox (down 9%) finished four shares behind. CBS was seven shares ahead of the pack in homes.

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. Metered-market averages cover 60% of the country.

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