NBC wins by a hair

CBS close 2nd with Willey; 'Ally' stokes Fox

NBC has won another primetime Nielsens week, but by narrow margins as the Peacock net aired mostly reruns within its key Tuesday and Thursday skeds.

In households, CBS finished just 0.4 rating points behind, as the Kathleen Willey interview on “60 Minutes” boosted that newsmag to its top rating since Oct. 30, 1994, and more than made up for a soft start for this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. Through Sunday, CBS’ basketball coverage averaged a primetime 6.3/12, down 5% from last year

Fox finished just 0.5 rating points behind NBC in adults 18-49, largely because of the rookie hit “Ally McBeal,” which has almost single-handedly wrecked NBC’s Monday sitcom strategy.

Last week’s results included a strong premiere for ABC’s “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” but wobbly starts for NBC’s “House Rules,” ABC’s “That’s Life” and Fox’s “Significant Others.” Recently added series such as CBS’ “The Closer” and ABC’s “Something So Right” also faded last week.

The March 9-15 adults 18-49 averages were: NBC, a 5.5 rating, 15 share (down 13% vs. results for the same week last year); Fox, 5.0/14 (even); ABC, 4.7/13 (down 6%); CBS, 4.2/11 (even); WB, 1.8/4 (up 20%); UPN, 1.6/4 (down 20%). NBC equaled its lowest 18-49 average this season in a non-Olympic week.

Fox won last week in adults 18-34, as well as men 18-34 and 18-49, and has remained second in adults 18-49 six weeks in a row.

Monday

“Ally McBeal” (10.8 rating, 16 share) took another step toward Monday dominance on March 16, winning its slot in homes for the first time and leading Fox to another nightlong Monday victory in homes and most key demos.

“Ally” pushed NBC’s Monday sitcom strategy further into oblivion.

“Suddenly Susan” (7.2/11) and “Caroline in the City” (6.6/10) suffered lowest-ever firstrun ratings and “House Rules” (6.4/10) held a fair 93% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Susan,” down from last week’s 96%.

CBS’ competition is also getting killed by “Ally,” with “The Closer” (7.1/11), recently viewed as possibly CBS’ salvation on this night, slipping to what’s apparently the Eye’s second-worst firstrun regular-series rating ever in that slot.

ABC, meanwhile, is clicking on Monday, finishing up 27% vs. its 18-49 average on the year-ago Monday with a competitive third-place 4.7/12 in that demo.

WB’s “Three” (2.0/3) remains in serious trouble.

Sunday

“60 Minutes’ ” Willey interview led CBS to a big Sunday win in households and a tie with Fox’s mostly rerun lineup in adults 18-49.

“Minutes” was the week’s top-rated show in homes, the first time it has finished atop that list since the week of Jan. 17-23, 1994. “Minutes” also clocked its best adults 18-49 and 25-54 ratings since March 27, 1994.

The Disney vidpic “Mr. Headmistress” was a drag — the lowest-rated “Wonderful World” of the current run. That contributed to soggy results for ABC’s broadcast premiere of “Waterworld,” but part one of the Kevin Costner pic did surface in the 18-49 lead for its final half-hour.

Surprisingly, “Waterworld, Part 1” only narrowly topped the national 18-49 rating of USA Network’s nautically themed com-petition, the cablepic “Moby Dick, Part 1,” (5.6/13 vs. 5.1/12) (see separate story).

WB’s lineup showed consistent strength, with even the chronic underachiever “Alright Already” retaining 87% of its lead-in, best for that series in nearly five months.

Saturday

NBC and CBS tied in homes, while NBC pulled 2 shares ahead in adults 18-49. The Peacock earned its best regular-sked Saturday homes rating since Jan. 4, 1997.

Matching up against CBS’ basketball, NBC’s “Bloopers” scored the top rating of its current Saturday run. The hoops lead-in seemed to work against CBS’ “Magnificent Seven,” which managed barely half the 18-49 rating of slot rival “The Pretender” (3.1/9 vs. 5.6/16).

ABC’s “That’s Incredible” settled for mundane numbers. Compared with 18-49 averages for slot predecessors, “Incredible” fell 9% short of the long-since canceled “C-16” and equaled “Nothing Sacred.”

Friday

ABC’s Friday lineup remains first but it’s a close race, with all four nets finishing within 2 shares of each other in adults 18-49 last Friday.

Fox tied ABC in the demo from 8-10 p.m.

NBC’s “Players” got back in the game, improving by 25% in its second try after a seven-week absence. Still, “Players” stayed fourth that hour in adults 18-49.

Thursday

CBS’ college hoops tournament opened with a 12% loss vs. year-ago results.

NBC romped as “Just Shoot Me” improved on its 18-49 lead-in from “Friends” by 3%, the best build for NBC in that slot in six months.

“One Hot Summer Night” cooked up ABC’s best Thursday-pic rating this season.

Wednesday

ABC took control of the night with the top-rated “Dharma & Greg” since premiere week, a series-record-tying “Drew Carey” and a solid premiere from “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.” “Pizza” held onto 89% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Drew,” ABC’s best retention in that half-hour since Oct. 22. “Ellen” has averaged a mere 69% in the slot since Jan. 1.

“Pizza” sliced through easier-than-usual competition. The Fox premiere of “Significant Others” settled for just 63% of the average 18-49 rating of slot regular “Party of Five.” CBS’ “Michael Hayes” again struggled, with a 5 share in adults 18-49 and a 7 in adults 25-54.

NBC also suffered through a “Clueless” night with its second-lowest 8-10 p.m. Wednesday 18-49 average since New Year’s Eve.

Thus, “Pizza” was able to serve up ABC’s best series-premiere numbers since “Spin City” in September 1996 and this year’s highest-rated mid-season premiere on any network. “Pizza” also nearly equaled its combined CBS-NBC-Fox adults 18-49 competition with a 25 share vs. a 26.

ABC’s big night was capped by the top-rated “PrimeTime Live” since Oct. 1. Featuring a “Titanic”-related report, “PTL” earned the best women 18-49 rating of any newsmag last week, including the Kathleen Willey-boosted “60 Minutes.”

>b>Tuesday

ABC won the night, though the premiering “That’s Life” looked lethargic and ABC’s second try with “Something So Right” faded against special competition.

“Life” retained a mere 66% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Home Improvement,” worst perf for ABC in that slot since Dec. 16 and ominously reminiscent of the 68% average of the uncompetitive “Hiller and Diller” last fall.

“Something So Right” held onto just 81% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Improvement,” after having built by 2% the previous week.

CBS’ “Miss USA” turned heads, equaling its year-ago rating and finishing just 1% behind 1996 figures. By comparison, “Miss America” has sagged by 24% over the past two years. “Miss USA” also topped CBS’ season slot average by 80% in adults 18-49.

UPN’s “Blockbuster Entertainment Awards” improved in adults 18-49 vs. last year by 6% and vs. two years ago by 19%. It was UPN’s top Tuesday 18-49 tally since Feb. 4, 1997.

Monday

The March 9 episode of “Ally McBeal” led Fox to its highest regular-sked Monday rating since Sept. 12, 1994 (Daily Variety, March 11).

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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